There are growing bodies of thought surrounding strengths, weaknesses and how they relate to adult development, particularly in the workplace. Should we concentrate on building on the things we aren’t good at? Or should we double down on the things we excel at?
Of course, it’s common for people to want to focus on their strengths. Applying this to a gym context provides a perfect example. When an athlete walks into a gym, it often becomes clear that they prefer doing exercises or sessions that favour their strengths.
People love doing the things that they are good at and hate spending time on the things that they suck at.
This makes sense on a certain level.
When we concentrate on our strengths, we get positive feedback on our work. This reinforces what we are already great at. It’s fun because we are doing excellent work and we continue to hone our craft. By tapping into deliberate practice, we can develop mastery in a given skill. Additionally, this encourages positive emotions which in turn increases our overall satisfaction and engagement.
However, there are limitations to this.
In developmental circles, this strengths-based approach is considered to be flawed. If we always do things we are good at, we are neglecting our blindspots. We have ignored anything that we consider ourselves not to be any good at. But as soon as we are faced with adversity or asked to do something that is in our blindspot, we stumble. All of a sudden, we are vulnerable. We have avoided doing anything that challenges us and now we aren’t prepared for it.
Thus, if we were to focus on developing weaknesses, we can bring about transformative change. Working on our weaknesses enables us to build our capacity in areas that we need to grow. We can build a more robust toolbox. Which leads to becoming a more resilient, capable human. For leaders and managers, there is an opportunity here. We can build robust organisations with a team of high performers who are tackling their weaknesses and creating a culture of growth.
On the flipside of this, if we are always doing things that we suck at it can be pretty discouraging. Failure, while being a fantastic means for learning and crucial for exploring the edges of our capabilities, is tough. To willingly and continuously expose ourselves to the possibility of failing, we need a certain level of drive and commitment.
We need a deep commitment to pushing the edges of our capability, in all directions.
However, I don’t think that this is a black and white matter (i.e. we need to focus on strengths OR weaknesses). Given both bodies of thought and perspectives from each camp, I believe that we need a balanced approach to developing our people. A system where we consider and develop both our strengths and weaknesses. Such an approach would engage our people, whilst challenging their current capabilities.
Here is my “Balanced Approach” to development:
- Engage with people through their strengths. Build rapport and connection with them by recognising (and helping them to recognise) what they are good at.
- Identify and develop their weaknesses. This gives them the opportunity to explore their edges and the things that they need but aren’t good at yet. This is the stimulus for growth.
- Provide feedback on their effort. Generous feedback provided from a place of love will help to inform your people on how and where they can improve. This is the fuel for growth.
- A focus on skill development will transform how your people work and encourage them to focus on the “process”. The process of developing skills (which contributes to a robust toolbox) and the skills themselves are transferable to other pursuits in life.
By building a culture where it is ok to fail and to take on challenges that will push us, as well as being rewarded for doing outstanding work, we cover all bases. We need a balance of pursuing mastery in areas where we are already strong, whilst also shoring up our weaknesses.
This approach will enable us to expand our overall capability and become more resilient humans, workers and leaders. Thereby, creating organisations filled with individuals who are prepared to tackle the challenges we are faced with today.