Invest in Strengths, not Weaknesses

looking down at golf ball in hole

Let’s say, hypothetically, that you have a child that is getting 2 A’s and 1 B and one C on their latest school report card. Which class would you have them focus on? This question has sort of become akin to the “are you a glass half empty or glass half full” question as it reveals a mindset that could make a significant difference between mediocre and excellent performance. At least that is what Marcus Buckingham has convinced me of after seeing him speak multiple times, and after finishing his latest book, which I now recommend, entitled, Nine Lies About Work.

Buckingham has become known as the “strengths” guy, and so he challenges parents to focus on the 2 A’s in the scenario above because this is where the child’s apparent strength lies. This assertion is one that, admittedly, I meet with clenched teeth because a “C” often feels unacceptable, especially if it is given because of a lack of effort. But Buckingham isn’t talking about effort; he’s talking about legitimate strengths and weaknesses. In other words, he is talking about trying your best and still getting a C vs. trying your best and getting an A.

I recently had experience with a change of mindset thanks to my golf coach John Esposito. I sought his teaching after having a miserable go with my wedge game in 2018. It had turned from mediocre, to downright lousy, and I had become a headcase in the process. Espo, as his players call him, advised me that I had three strengths with regards to my wedge game. My grip was perfect, my back swing modeled a tour pro (his words not mine), and I was talented enough to make this shot repeatedly. Next, Espo changed a few things with my stance and follow through, but then challenged me to simply use my eyes and imagine where I wanted the ball to land. In other words, he was telling me to stop focusing on my weaknesses (the results of the shot, whether I would hit it fat or thin, or fearing all the above), and focus rather on softly putting the ball where I wanted it. All this while believing I could because of the strengths Espo had outlined in his analysis of my game. While it is early in the season, and not every wedge shot I hit is perfect, the results are beginning to speak for themselves.

This experience, coupled with Buckingham’s research on strengths, has challenged my leadership. Why is it that I often want to work on people’s weaknesses, rather than work with their strengths? As I have learned in my golf game, a subtle refocus on what one does well can pay dividends in their performance. It is the leader’s job, therefore, to not only find the strengths in others, but voice affirmation behind them. We need to encourage followers to double-down on what they do well, trusting that our bench is deep enough with people of different strengths to fill in for any gaps or weaknesses. Unlike golf, business is a team game, and multiple people can hit different kinds of “shots.” Our job then is to build people up so that they can be as good as possible with their “shot” of specialty.

So let’s reconsider our mindset and focus on building people’s strengths, and not trying to correct their weaknesses.