09 Nov 2020 21:03 IST

Focus on strengths not weaknesses but don’t overdo it

When we focus on our strengths and those of the people we manage, we get the best

Over the last several years, the strength-based movement has picked up momentum. And that is for good reason. In fact, the focus on strengths that people bring to work, rather than the weaknesses, has its origin in positive psychology. For a very long time, as managers we were brainwashed by B-schools and thereafter in many training programmes, to believe that achieving excellence is about overcoming our weaknesses.

However, positive psychology has a radically different point of view. For example, there are over 40,000 books on depression and very few on happiness. Psychologists for a very long time (and some of them, even now!) studied divorces to understand how to lead a happy married life! The focus tended to be on the “dark side” of the personality to understand and achieve the “bright side”.

Secret sauce

Way back in the 1960s, Peter Drucker highlighted the need for focusing on strengths to get the best out of people. Drucker was emphatic when he wrote, “Focusing on strengths is development, whereas focusing on weakness is damage control.” He further went on to even state that “to focus on one’s weakness at work is misuse, if not abuse of the person”. Thankfully over the years, the excessive focus on “fixing the weaknesses” as the secret sauce of exceptional performance has changed. Understandably, no one is an “allrounder”. We are all a package of our unique strengths and weaknesses. Later studies too indicate that people become better at what they are already good at.

So far, so good. The strengths narrative also needs to be understood for its totality. Without any doubt, when we focus on our strengths and those of the people we manage, we get the best. However, there is a caveat. What if we overuse our strengths? Can there be some “side effects”? The answer is again a resounding “yes.” Let’s see a few examples:

Micromanagement is no good

*You have an eye for details and so you pay a lot of attention to getting things executed flawlessly. However, when one overuses this strength to the other extreme, one’s style tends to become that of “micromanaging”. And, as we all know, micromanagement does no good to us as leaders, nor to the people we manage - except leaving them demotivated.

* Humility is a prized quality as we all know. However, when displayed in excess may let people to take you for granted. Healthy assertiveness is not necessarily the opposite of humility, but a complementary cousin that keeps your effectiveness high.

Therefore, aspiring leaders are advised to continuously reflect if they are lopsided in using their strengths to its extreme. Most often that not they discover, much to their surprise, they have become a lot less effective or even less inspiring. Not only do those who embrace their strengths do so as the only truth, but they consequently ignore an equal and opposing point of view!

To conclude, it is worth remembering Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote, “You must stand in terror of your strengths!”