Lead with your strengths

I’m sure most of you have been tested at least once in your life by your employer or others to evaluate your professional skills. And many of you have given such tests to potential employees or contractors too. Based on these tests, you may have decided not to hire someone because of his/her weaknesses. But what about the person’s strengths?

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The problem with this kind of testing is that managers are trained to mitigate risk. Thus, they look closely at people’s weaknesses, trying to minimize potential losses in this area. Likewise, in employee assessments, managers often focus on “areas for improvement” hoping their people will spend more time working to get better at these things. Meanwhile, we all take our own and our employees’ strengths for granted.

Average teams, average results

As a result of this kind of thinking, we tend to get average skill sets across our teams. By encouraging people to focus on their weaknesses, we don’t capitalize on their strengths. So we get teams of people with similar skill levels – average discipline, average communication skills, average taking of responsibility and average technical knowledge. That works for average project managers on average projects.

But will those average teams ever bring greatness to your company? I would say probably not. It doesn’t matter how hard you try as a manager, or how good – or even great – you are if your team’s greatness has been suppressed for the sake of mitigating risk and trying to create ideal, but not great, employees.

Everyone has weaknesses. And no matter how hard you work to improve on those things, they will probably remain your weaknesses. But we all have strengths as well. And it is our strengths, not how hard we work on our weaknesses, that make us valuable to our team, our project and our company.

You will not establish a good reputation in your career because there is nothing negative to say about your work. You will always have weak spots, and you will never turn these into strengths. But in most cases, people will evaluate you based on your results and you will have achieved good results based on your strengths.

According to Gallup’s StrengthsFinders, we all need to focus more of our time on maximizing our strengths instead of worrying so much about our weaknesses. You might want to read the books and take the assessments, but you can start working from strength instead of weakness right now. Consider what you do well, and how to apply those skills better to your work.

If all you do is work on your own weaknesses and those of your reports, you may be creating a comfort zone of risk avoidance around you. But real success lies far beyond this comfort zone and you can only get there by using your strengths, and improving on them every day.