Why Focusing on Strengths is More Productive Than Fixing Weaknesses
You Can Strengthen Weakness, But…
Gallup has been studying the way strengths and talents work in people for over 30 years and their findings are interesting. Most studies show that strengthening or eliminating weakness is invariably more difficult than raising strengths. In fact, focusing on your talents and strengthening them may be the best way to manage your weaknesses. You might even find that your weaknesses are less noticeable when you focus on your strengths.
Certainly there is a lot of criticism of this approach. A quick google search of the CliftonStrengths Assessment can yield naysayers. My favorite negative article on the subject can be found in the venerable Harvard Business Review. Prior to taking a Strengths Coaching Class from PCCI (Professional Christian Coaching Institute), I did my research. The article, Strengths-Based Coaching Can Actually Weaken You, by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is worth the read. Some of his points are valid and worth the caution. Just read the comments because a number of strengths coaches make some good rebuttal points.
Strengthening Areas of Natural Talent Pays Off
Even though a strengths-based emphasis can be taken too far, the research is pretty convincing (see the whitepaper—Investing in Strengths). The Nebraska speed reading study is one of Gallup’s most quoted studies in favor of a strengths approach. The study was done in the 1950s and has been repeated by others with similar results. In this study, two groups of students were taught speed reading techniques. The first group of students was average readers and the second group of students was naturally talented readers. Both groups received the same speed reading training and both improved; exactly what researches expected. What surprised the researches was the difference between the two groups of students. The average readers made gains, but they were minimal. The naturally talented readers went from 300 words per minute to 2900 words per minute, an increase of more than 866%.
Gallup cites the same results organizationally. Both underperforming and high performing pubs in England were remodeled with the thought being that both would see business increase. The thought was that the underperforming pubs would see even greater growth than the other pubs, just because the need was greater. The opposite ended up being true. Low performing pubs did experience a 15% increase in profitability. But the profitability of high performing pubs was astounding. They were seven times more profitable after renovation. After adjusting for location, competition, and other factors, researches concluded that the talents of individuals working in the pubs made the difference.
Leaning Away From Weaknesses
It’s fascinating that most yearly job performance reviews focus in on weaknesses. And even when there is plenty of affirmation, weaknesses pointed out seem to be what employees remember the most. One friend, after his yearly performance review, asked me “Why do I only think about the weakness that were pointed out, instead of the 3-4 good things that they said?” Why highlighting weaknesses can be so devastating is another topic. Some research suggests that while a little negative criticism may be necessary, it takes a substantial amount of positive feedback to balance it out. Whatever the reasons are, most of us know that negative criticism tends to stick in our minds. Certainly, weaknesses have to be addressed and another blog article can explore how best to do it. Let’s just say for now that most emotionally aware people already know their weaknesses. Those with low emotional awareness could likely use intervention. We just have to think hard about what intervention looks like for both those with high or low emotional intelligence.
Even Gallup knows weaknesses can’t be ignored. In fact, they would say that once we know our strengths we can address weaknesses. One powerful way to address weaknesses is to know them and then address them through your strengths.
The Biggest Payoff Is in Strengths
It’s easier and faster to grow your strengths. Focussing on your strengths will also help you to properly frame your weaknesses. There are even benefits to knowing the strengths of the people around us. When we know and focus on other people’s strengths we will likely begin to see them with new eyes. We can also partner with them in areas where we are less strong.
From Gallup’s point of view talents are the foundations of strengths. Talents when developed with skills, knowledge, and experience are areas of incredible strength. One can easily argue that talent development is so energizing that growth happens immediately and almost automatically. When a person develops their talents and grows them into strengths the payoff is exponentially greater than any growth that can happen in an area where there is no natural talent (remember the studies above).
There are several assessments that focus on identifying strengths. Gallup’s Clifton Strengths assessment is one of the most well known and has decades of research to back it up. If you have already taken the assessment formerly called the StrengthsFinder then consider reengaging your results. If you haven’t taken it, then consider purchasing the full CliftonStrengths 34 report. If you would like some help getting the most out of the assessment then contact me. As a WeAlign Associate Coach, we also have a number of packages that help people and organizations align their lives and their work to their strengths. You can visit my services page or the WeAlign services page for more information about Personal Strengths Alignments, Team Strengths Alignments, or Team Transformations. Reach out to schedule a complimentary, no-obligation conversation about strengths coaching for yourself or your entire team.
WeAlign is a professional coaching firm that identifies the genius in each person. We help teams build workplace cultures that leverage their strengths and are fueled by joy. We accomplish this through our exclusive coaching process that utilizes the CliftonStrengths assessment and neuroscience relational tools. Our coaches use individual coaching sessions to align people with their unique design. And through our dynamic group training, teams learn to value each other’s unique contribution for maximum impact.
The Barbara Bush was taken from the book Turning Talents into Strengths: Stories of Coaching Transformation by Rhonda Knight Boyle. #BeeInspired Publishing. Kindle Edition.