Focus on strengths, not on weaknesses

I had the opportunity to attend Gallup Accelerated Strengths training this summer. It’s something I’ve had on my wish list for a few years now and it finally bubbled to the top.  The experience far exceeded my expectations, and I’ve found myself very tuned into daily conversations in a way I’ve never been in the past.

The premise behind the Gallup program is that everyone has natural talent. Tasks, activities, thinking patterns and learning abilities that manifest with very little effort – almost like animal instinct.  With the appropriate nurturing, skill development and knowledge, those talents become strengths.  This doesn’t mean that other skills can’t be learned, but it does mean that there are certain activities that will take more effort and energy for some individuals to accomplish.

For example:  two of my top strengths are “Futuristic” and “Strategic.”  I have the unique ability to visualize what I want to happen in the future and then figure out the best path to reach that visualization – it just works!  However, “Analytical” and “Focus” are relatively low in my sequence which is why at the end of each month when it’s time to do the accounting close I must sequester myself in a dark room for a long period of time to achieve my goal.

Recognizing my own strengths and seeing how they directly impact my life and career got me thinking about career and team building on a larger scale.  What if, as leaders, teachers, and mentors, we could help those in our sphere of influence identify talents and turn those into strengths rather than constantly harping on getting better at the stuff they don’t do well?  What if we also take this a step further, and begin the process as parents with our own children?  Lets’ dream a bit about what this type of “strengthfinding” could mean.

1. Students would do better at school

What if we didn’t force students to sit in a crammed desks, facing the teacher and listening? Instead, what if we allowed them to choose partners and work where they feel comfortable?  They could apply their energy toward difficult tasks during a time in the day when they felt the greatest mental strength.  What if you let the creative mind “create” and the analytical mind “analyze?”  The focus would be on students as individuals, teaching them to nurture their own way of learning.  This might help lead them to more meaningful, fulfilling careers that truly cater to their individual strengths.

2. Employees would be engaged and more successful in a career they love

Imagine a world where 80% of your day was spent doing work that you find enjoyable and natural. What if at the end of each day it felt like you really did great work and pushed yourself to new limits?  Perhaps that great work and the great work of those around you created a place where people like to hang out?  Then those happy people talked with your customers?  What if………?

3. Performance reviews wouldn’t be fearful and antagonistic

I was so excited to see that SAP has abolished the annual performance review process in favor of more immediate and consistent feedback loops.  EUREKA!  Maybe, instead of dreading that time during the year when your raise has everything to do with how much you’ve worked to overcome the weaknesses your manager told you about last year, you have the opportunity to celebrate how you’ve excelled in your position because you get to apply your natural talent (strengths) every day and work with others who are doing the same?  In a position that caters to your natural strengths, you and your boss can focus on your accomplishments rather than your perceived failures.

4. Self-managed teams would be possible

I am a firm and committed believer in self-managed teams.  Given a set of parameters and desired outcomes, talented people who know and enjoy what they do well will organize themselves to achieve the objective – we just have to give them the chance.  Generally speaking, people do not like to fail. They will use the tools and talents available on the team to achieve success.  Why not let them do it?

5. Executives would excel and profits would increase

Imagine the employees in 2 above traveling through their career, focused on developing their strengths. As those people become leaders, they begin building their own teams and filling their “gaps” with people whose strengths cover those gaps.  Imagine how deliriously happy their employee population would be as a result of developing their own strengths.  It’s a waterfall effect.  Now imagine their customers – the customers who are drawn to the company because every touch point is a positive one.  Happy people who are using their strengths are a magnet for happy customers.  Now, you have happy customers, happy employees, an incredibly successful executive team – what happens to your profits?

You’ve seen a glimpse of my “Futuristic” strength here.  What do you think?  Not everyone will see this path toward a better work place, but some will!  I hope you are one of the lucky ones.  For more on building a strengths-based environment visit us here!