How to power up not down: Strengths vs. weaknesses in leadership

How to power up not down: Strengths vs. weaknesses in leadership
Mark Bates
Mark BatesApplebright Coaching

Posted: Tue 17th Oct 2023

A classic failing of some leadership and personal or professional growth plans is aiming for mediocrity.

"What!?" I hear you say. "I'm a good leader and always make sure to develop my strengths and work on my weaknesses."

Stop right there. This is truly what we have been conditioned to do since childhood work on what we need to improve, right?  

We then translate this thinking into adulthood, into our self-management. Even worse, we spread mediocrity by taking it into our leadership.

As humans, we tend to have a negative bias. This means that we see our faults more readily than our talents. This approach is routinely backed by most appraisals we have or conduct at work. Almost everyone has an element of working on improving those areas we are judged as less strong in.  

This is a conspiracy to create a race to the bottom! This race also just takes our strengths for granted, says that they are OK, and allows us the comfort of returning to our negative bias and focusing on weaknesses.  

Taking strengths for granted

So, what's the outcome of focusing on the negatives? If we're lucky, we may create sufficient time and effort that bring our weaker areas up to an acceptable or average level. This can take immense amounts of work.

It's like choosing to be left-handed when you're naturally right-handed. Effectively, this sole focus plays into our negative bias and poor self-image. If it works well, we may even become average after all that effort.

How many world-beaters, how many exciting innovations, how many records broken, and how many great goals could we have achieved had we focused on making our strengths better rather than weaknesses average? 

What impact in the world, let alone in our lives, could we make by creating a personal and leadership focus on celebrating strengths and allowing people the time and excitement to see where those skills take them?  

Why not work more where we shine?

Studies have shown that when we operate in our strength areas, we're six times more engaged in what we do. The same positive psychology studies by Martin Seligman also show our happiness levels are supercharged and depression is massively reduced as self-confidence soars.

Being forced to spend too much time developing weaknesses is naturally likely to result in self-esteem issues and consequently a growth in debilitating problems such as impostor syndrome and greater levels of self-sabotage.

"A particular way of behaving, thinking or feeling that is authentic and energising to the user, and enables optimal functioning, development and performance."

Professor Alex Linley

The definition of strengths gives us a massive clue as to why focusing on them is the way to go.

Innovation creating results

Focusing on working on strengths makes the greatest progress and unlocks our greatness. It makes us happy and energises us, and success rapidly increases too.

Consequently, our leadership style should aim to draw the power of strengths from our people and, as a result, celebrate success and a totally different team dynamic. Energy, happiness and connection also mean that wellbeing is greatly enhanced. 

A clear focus on strengths should be a pivotal priority for us as individuals and as leaders. As business owners and entrepreneurs, our leadership should be energising and engaging all of those around us through a positive determination that strengths have no upper limit.

This resolve can also help us see that being the archetypal parent and working only on the algebra equation will waste time, create feelings of inadequacy and not promote the success and productivity that strengths do.   

Failing fast

Of course, we learn so much in struggle and adversity. Working on improvement is noble but a sole focus on weakness at the expense of strengths is pure folly.

We can grow by understanding our mistakes and learning from them. What we shouldn't be doing is sleepwalking into the human tendency of negative bias and focusing on weaknesses.

Freedom to get stronger

So, understand your strengths, and plan to work with them to see just how high this takes you.

Look forward to the journey that a strength-based approach will take you and to the happiness and success that this will yield. The excitement will be in the realisation of just how far strengths take you, of how high they can make you soar.

Relevant resources

Mark Bates
Mark BatesApplebright Coaching

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