One of my CEO executive coaching and leadership development clients is working with her executive leadership team to create an organizational culture that leverages employees’ talents and strengths. I am coaching her to become more effective at focusing on strengths and values, helping leaders at all levels of the organization become more fully engaged and productive.
The CEO knows that for the organization to thrive they must create an organizational culture and climate that nourishes constant innovation. Human Resources is partnering with me in supporting senior leaders to motivate people by building authentic strength-based relationships.
Most of us have a poor sense of our talents and strengths. Throughout our education and careers, there is a lot of attention paid to our weaknesses. We are acutely aware of our faults and deficits, our “opportunities for development,” or whatever euphemism is popular for naming them.
We have become experts in our own weaknesses and spend our lives trying to repair our flaws, while our strengths lie dormant and neglected. The research, however, is clear: we grow and develop by putting emphasis on our strengths, rather than trying to correct our deficits.
Most people don’t concern themselves with identifying their talents and strengths. Instead, they choose to study their weaknesses. A Gallup poll investigated this phenomenon by asking Americans, French, British, Canadian, Japanese and Chinese people of all ages and backgrounds the question: “Which do you think will help you improve the most: knowing your strengths or knowing your weaknesses?”
Strengths or Weaknesses?
The answer was always the same: weaknesses, not strengths, deserve the most attention. The most strengths-focused culture is the United States, but still only a minority of people, 41 percent, felt that knowing their strengths would help them improve the most. The least strengths-focused cultures are Japan and China. Only 24 percent believe that the key to success lies in their strengths.
The majority of people in the world don’t think that the secret to improvement lies in a deep understanding of their strengths. Interestingly, in every culture the older people (55 and above) were the least fixated on their weaknesses. Perhaps they have acquired more self-acceptance and realize the futility of trying to be what they are not.
Why are Weaknesses so Attractive?
Why do so many people avoid focusing on their strengths? Weaknesses may be fascinating and strangely mesmerizing, like watching soap operas or Jerry Springer. But the attraction lies in the fact that we deeply fear our weaknesses, our failures and even our true self.
Some people may be reluctant to investigate their strengths because they may fear there isn’t much in the way of real talent or strength inside them anyway, or that they are just average (ingrained from education models). Or, maybe there is a feeling of inadequacy, an “imposter syndrome,” and an underlying fear of being found out.
However, if you do not investigate your strengths, for any of the above fears and feelings of insecurity, you will miss out on discovering more of who you really are. You will miss out on becoming who you are really meant to be.
Building on your strengths is about responsibility. It involves becoming acutely aware, developing an action learning plan, and “practice, practice, practice”. Viewed in this light, to avoid your strengths by focusing on your weaknesses is almost a sign of irresponsibility.
Contributing Editor Maynard Brusman is a consulting psychologist and executive coach who believes coaching is a collaborative process of providing people with the resources and opportunities they need to self-manage, develop change resiliency, and become more effective. Over the past 35 years, Dr. Brusman has coached hundreds of clients to improve their leadership effectiveness. He has appeared on radio and TV, MSNBC, CBS Health Watch and in the San Francisco Chronicle, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Time and Fast Company. http://www.workingresources.com
Are you working in a company where leaders focus on tapping into employees’ talents and strengths?