Focus on Strengths… Not Weaknesses

What four characteristics do all highly successful people have in common?

1. They all have strengths.

2. They all have weaknesses.

3. They all focus on, build, improve and leverage their strengths.

4. Highly successful people spend very little of their priceless energy and irreplaceable time trying to eliminate, reduce or significantly improve weaknesses that don’t really matter in the greater scheme of things.

Less successful people also have at least four characteristics in common:

1. They all have strengths.

2. They all have weaknesses.

3. They spend less of their total available time focusing on, building, improving and leveraging their strengths.

4. Less successful people spend more of their priceless energy and irreplaceable time trying to eliminate, reduce or significantly improve weaknesses that don’t really matter in the greater scheme of things.

Unsuccessful people also have at least four characteristics in common:

1. They all have strengths.

2. They all have weaknesses.

3. They spend far less of their total available time focusing on, building, improving and leveraging their strengths.

4. Unsuccessful people spend far too much of their priceless energy and irreplaceable time trying to eliminate, reduce or significantly improve weaknesses that don’t really matter in the greater scheme of things.

Unfortunately, a very common and terribly destructive annual performance evaluation scenario plays itself out tens of thousands of times each day in America and around the world.  The way many of these evaluations are handled is totally contrary to the actions and wisdom of highly successful people.  The evaluation meeting begins with a review of Jim’s work and accomplishments over the past year (or whatever period of time is being evaluated).  Sue, to whom Jim reports, is conducting the evaluation and leading the meeting.  Jim’s performance compared to previously agreed upon goals and measures is very good to excellent.  Sue reviews and acknowledges Jim’s excellent performance including being above revenue targets and below budget in expenses.  Net revenue for the areas for which Jim is responsible is well above target.  Just as important, if not more so, quality indicators have remained high.  Customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction in the areas for which Jim is responsible are at or near the top of the company.  Jim has had a very good year.  Everyone, including customers, potential customers, the company, Jim’s team, Jim himself and Sue have all benefited from Jim’s excellent performance.  Sue sincerely and very appropriately complements Jim and acknowledges the accomplishments for which he is responsible.

Things have gone great but the allotted hour for the evaluation meeting is only half over.  It doesn’t take long to review the positive results that everyone already knew before the formal evaluation began.  At this point Sue says, “Now… let’s talk about some areas… maybe even some weaknesses… which you can and should improve.”  This is the exact opposite of what Sue should be saying at this point in the meeting!  Sue should be saying, “Now… let’s talk about how we and you might build on your obvious strengths to create even greater value for everyone concerned, including you and your future.”  Had Sue said the latter, the entire conversation and results of the meeting would have been very different.

Instead, Sue begins to point out and discuss areas in which she perceives Jim is weak or not strong.  Sue’s perspectives may be real and somewhat important… or, they may be very personal perspectives, based solely on Sue’s life and work experiences.  Another supervisor could very well have a totally different perspective.  For sure an excellent leader would be focused on building on proven strengths as opposed to dwelling on non-crucial weaknesses.

For 30 minutes, one half of the evaluation meeting, the focus feels increasingly negative to Jim.  The focus is on weaknesses or areas in which Jim is not as strong as opposed to focusing on, reinforcing and further improving his obvious strengths.  Jim had a very successful year.  Customers are happy, employees are happy, the company did very well because of Jim’s positive performance.  The fact is, most of the perceived weaknesses must not matter much.  The job was done and done well.  Thirty minutes later there is a handshake, a now somewhat subdued and less enthusiastic acknowledgement of a very good year, and probably a raise consistent with or a little higher than the annual increased cost of living.

Jim goes back to his desk or office.  I ask you to imagine what Jim is thinking, what he is saying to himself and how he is feeling.  I guarantee you he is not thinking and feeling like he was 30 minutes into the evaluation meeting.  After working his tail off for an entire year, working long hours for over 250 work days plus a number of Saturdays and Sundays, after accomplishing all that was agreed upon, the air and wind has been literally sucked out of him… and from his sails.  It will take Jim weeks to recover and mentally work through the damage done by his leader in those 30 minutes.  And, the damage was totally unnecessary and all for nothing!  Jim is an adult.  For the most part, his patterns are set.  His interests, his passions, that which he enjoys and that which he does not enjoy are pretty much set.  Like every other human who has ever lived, Jim is a creature of habit.  Not much will change, unless Jim passionately wants and decides and works very hard to permanently change something.

Whether because of insecurity, a little jealousy, ignorance, lack of experience, lack of wisdom or for whatever reason, Jim’s leader has totally blown a priceless opportunity to be an inspirational leader… to help Jim improve and leverage his strengths.  And… to help him all but ignore his weaknesses that matter very little in the greater scheme of things.

Thousands of similar examples are all around each of us.  My wife is passionate about interior design and decoration.  Faye loves it and she is extremely good at it.  She can spend a few minutes with you, walking through your home or office.  Having never returned to your home or office, she can go to any design center in the world, even a year or two later, and select beautiful designs, decorations and colors that fit perfectly with not only your home or office, but also with what you like as opposed to what she might like.

Algebra, geometry, calculus, physics?  Don’t even go there!  Faye has no passion, no interest, does not like, and is not good at math.  And, because she has no interest and passion for mathematics, she will never be good at it.  A very important point… she does not need to be good at it.  Faye can easily hire the best of mathematicians if she needs such work completed.  How foolish it would be to spend precious time and effort encouraging her, or even forcing her through job expectations, to reduce or eliminate this “mathematics weakness.”  She would be miserable and it would never happen.  She would simply resign and go elsewhere… which is exactly what millions of successful people do when they are consistently reminded or encouraged to work on weaknesses they have no interest in and that matter very little in the greater scheme of things.

All world-class personal and professional performance coaches recommend that each of us focus and work every day to improve ourselves, our performance and the value we create and deliver.  They are exactly right!  And, we should spend at least 95 percent of that time and effort improving and strengthening our strengths… not our weaknesses.  The big payoffs in all areas of our lives come from improved strengths, not from improved weaknesses.

By the way, just a few of the highly successful people who have or had the four characteristics in common listed in the first paragraph are Ronald Reagan, Eleanor Roosevelt, John D Rockefeller, Queen Elizabeth I, Thomas Edison, Susan B. Anthony, Bill Clinton, Florence Nightingale, Albert Einstein, Emily Dickinson, Ross Perot, Laura Ingalls Wilder, John Wooden, Helen Keller, Bill Gates, Amelia Earhart, Warren Buffet, Mother Teresa, Tiger Woods, Lucille Ball, Arnold Palmer, Indira Gandhi, Jack Nicklaus, Margaret Thatcher, Arthur Ashe, Anne Frank, Benjamin Franklin, Sandra Day O’Conner, Martin Luther King, Jr., Billy Jean King, Billy Graham, Oprah Winfrey… and the list could go on and on…

Can you imagine any of these highly successful people spending valuable time and energy worrying about or endeavoring to overcome weaknesses that would have little or no positive impact on their vision, mission, major interests and contributions in life?  I think not!  Highly successful people spend very little of their priceless energy and irreplaceable time trying to eliminate, reduce or significantly improve weaknesses that matter very little in the greater scheme of things.  This crucial concept is worth remembering and applying, each and every day, for the rest of each of our lives.

For the most part, if a weakness is not significantly inhibiting you from pursuing your vision and achieving your mission, and if the weakness is not damaging to you, your family, or others with whom you come in contact and wish to serve, “just forget it.”  Forget about weaknesses!  Focus on, build, improve and leverage your strengths for maximum success, value, and contribution.

And, if those to whom you report will not allow you to do this, go somewhere else… the sooner the better.  You will be far better off… and so will all others in your life…

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I am a leader, speaker, and author who is passionate about Leadership Excellence and Achieiving Greater Success. I am the author of the books Be An Inspirational Leader(2016) and Presidential Leadership (2013), and deliver keynote presentations on those topics and several others.

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