Focus on your strengths to become a better leader

If you have ever participated in 360-degree feedback or performance reviews, you know that once results are ready people tend to look for negative comments, ratings first. Striving to fix weaknesses is common for almost all cultures, and it’s not surprising – since elementary school we have been used to focus on improving bad grades, no matter of how subjects with such grades were important or relevant to us.
But does the same approach work for the business world? Are companies with leaders without weaknesses are more efficient and successful than companies where leaders ignore unimportant skill gaps to make their strengths exceptional? Let’s check it out in this article.

We learn better what we like – hardly anyone will argue with this statement. Our strengths are skills that we like to use as often as we can, and weaknesses, on the contrary, are skills that are uncomfortable for us to apply. Fixing weaknesses is a tedious process, and usually the outcome of improving weaknesses is miserable – we can spend a lot of time on it for minimal progress.

Some time ago Gallup did a research to prove that a focus on employee strengths leads to more engaging and productive workplaces. Based on the Gallup research, ninety percent of the workgroups, that were using strength-based employee development practices, had performance increases sales (10% to 19%), profit (14% to 29%), engaged employees (9% to 15%). Besides, employees are more engaged when they strongly agree that their manager focuses on their strengths.

A focus on strengths may sound new, but this concept was introduced many years ago. In 1967, in his classic book, The Effective Executive, father of management thinking Peter Drucker wrote: “The effective executive makes strengths productive. To achieve results one has to use all the available strengths — the strengths of associates, the strength of the superior, and one’s own strengths. These strengths are the true opportunities. To make strength productive is the unique purpose of the organization. It cannot overcome the weaknesses with which each of us is endowed, but it can make them irrelevant.” This idea has been developed by many specialists including Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience), a strong promoter of positive psychology Martin Seligman (Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realise your Potential for Lasting Fulfilment), and Zenger Folkman (How to Be Exceptional: Drive Leadership Success By Magnifying Your Strengths).

When you should work on fixing weaknesses

All people have weaknesses. While some weaknesses at work are not important and can be ignored, there are skills that are crucial for your profession and may cost you your job if you don’t bring them to a certain level – such skills, fatal flaws, should be your first priority when you creating your personal development plan.

Define your strengths

Self-reflection and feedback from colleagues come in handy to define your strengths. 360-degree feedback is a proven tool that will help you to gather structured feedback from your colleagues on skills you consider the most important. Platforms like Wystra helps to organize 360-degree reviews for individuals and teams/companies in minutes.

How to develop your strengths

Working on strengths is different than fixing weaknesses. Usually it’s enough to complete formal training and follow common recommendations to get your flaw fixed, but for your strong skills such methods don’t work.
Use a combination of all development methods available to get your skills from excellent to exceptional. Such technics as cross-training, on-the-job training, job shadowing and learning from your managers and colleagues should be in your arsenal.
Regular feedback is essential to track your progress in developing your skills. Having a source of accurate prompt feedback ensures that you are on the right track and helps you to adjust your development activities if you see that something doesn’t work right.