Focus on Strengths
A new year is starting and around the world people are focused on resolutions and fresh starts. Please consider finding ways to highlight and use your strengths as an overarching resolution for 2006 and beyond.
After about 20 years of consulting, I’m seeing, more all the time, that a key ingredient to helping individuals and organizations is to encourage a focus on strengths. Whether it’s an individual, a team, an organization, or a community, it’s bringing forth strengths that is the key to success, effectiveness, and happiness.
Often, we do the opposite: we highlight weaknesses and put inordinate amounts of time and attention into areas where we aren’t so good. It doesn’t take much thought to see this is absurd. With work, care, and consistent effort, you can use your strengths as doorways to excellence. By helping your strengths flower fully, you can be the best you can be for the world. By pouring time and energy into fixing weaknesses, you walk through a doorway that leads to mediocrity.
A while back, I was ranting about the obsession we have with weaknesses when a workshop participant who had been very quiet spoke up. “What you just said about focusing on strengths and not weaknesses got me thinking about my son. I’m not trying to brag about him, but I was real proud that he just got accepted into a gifted program in second grade. He really excels in math. But he’s really got bad handwriting. My wife and I are always on him about the handwriting and so are his teachers. What do you think we should do?”
Before I could answer, another participant jumped in and she said, “Doctors have terrible handwriting and they do OK in life. Forget the handwriting and let the boy do math.”
Let that advice sink in a little and see how it feels to you. Do you think this father should lighten up on the writing and focus on the math? Does it make sense? Or do you think that the only way a person improves is to face weaknesses and work hard to improve? Do you think you, your team, and your organization should spend energy on highlighting strengths or focusing on weaknesses? Should Michael Jordan have focused his last years of athletic competition on improving at baseball or winning more basketball championships? How do you live out this choice in your life?
Focusing on strengths goes against the way most of us were educated and the way our performance is reviewed by the boss. In most cases, it’s the weaknesses that get the attention. The “F” catches the eye of the parent and the teacher and not the “A;” the bad handwriting gets energy. The “areas for improvement” are the focus of the performance reviews and the strengths are hardly mentioned. Many individuals allow weaknesses to become the focus of their entire life and go to the grave with untapped talents.
What are your greatest strengths? When do you feel you are making your greatest contribution to your organization and to the world? How can you use your strengths and talents more? How can you help those around you focus more on their strengths?
“I thought I was a positive thinker. Now, I have new ways to use an appreciative approach in all areas of my life and re-think some old habits. Great job, John! Excellent style, format, and overall experience.”
– Lisa Hanger, Indiana Association of United Way, Vice President for Training