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Develop Leadership Strength Over Weakness
Instead of focusing on correcting one’s weaknesses, research shows that building one’s strengths makes leaders more effective.
Like a giant pendulum swinging, there has been a dramatic shift in the world of leadership development. The traditional approach has been to help people discover their weaknesses and then relentlessly chip away at the gravest of the bunch. The logic here is seemingly impeccable. Weaknesses tend to be responsible for pulling managers down, and if someone corrected their weakness, they would be likely to rise upward.
In the past few years, however, a different approach to helping a leader succeed has emerged. Instead of focusing on the negative side of a leader’s behavior, the focus has swung to analyzing what they do well and how they can improve.
While the idea has been addressed by Peter Drucker, who some might call the father of modern management, it did not take hold. Only recently has this thinking started to have broader acceptance.
Following Drucker, a number of other researchers and practitioners have supported such thinking; many have published their ideas on the subject in books, such as Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Soar With Your Strengths by Don Clifton, one of the founders of the Gallup organization. Of late, researchers such as Martin Seligman have reinforced these ideas in books such as Authentic Happiness and Flourish.
The supporting evidence and logic behind the development of strengths is based on several factors. Research by Joe Folkman on 24,657 leaders who had participated in 360-degree feedback assessments and who each had at least seven respondents showed that regardless of how much effort they spent on correcting weaknesses, their efforts would only bring them to the midpoint on the overall measure of effectiveness.
Correcting weaknesses would bring those at the lower end of the bell-shaped curve upwards to the middle, but never propelled them to the upper half of the curve. Similarly, being generally good on many competencies did not place someone in the top half of the distribution. But when someone excelled at three to five competencies — defined as being at the 90th percentile or above — they were highly likely to be one of any organization’s top-tier leaders.
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