Invest in Developing Strengths – Why Bother?

Before I even started school, I remember annoying my grandmother, mother and father because they thought I asked too many questions.

“Curiosity killed the cat” was one of the many proverbs my grandmother delighted in repeating to me, every time I poked my head into something new, or asked “Why?” It silenced me, as I was upset by the idea of “killing cats.”

My mother, too, after endless “Why?” questions, in frustration would sigh, “Because I said so” or “’Y’ is a crooked letter that can’t be made straight.” I had to pause to think hard about trying to straighten the letter “Y” and wouldn’t dare ask, “Why does it need to be straightened?”

Even my father would tell me, “Mind your p’s and q’s.” I couldn’t fathom that one.

Curiosity and Love of Learning Energize Me

In spite of these early reprimands, it seems my curiosity, love of learning, and desire to seek out new ideas have been my constant guides. These days, whenever I am in a new territory, I am called to go further to explore what’s around the corner, over the hill, or beyond the horizon.

I am truly satisfied when I discover for myself what I can learn and what new ideas come up that stimulate possibility-thinking and what-if scenarios.

After all these years, I know now that curiosity, love of learning, collecting ideas, and seeing the big picture are my best attributes, or my signature strengths. I know I am most satisfied when I am playing or working to these strengths.

Our Weaknesses Attract More Attention and Investment

It’s a relatively new, and thankfully a growing trend, to focus on and develop strengths. Yet, the old paradigm of ‘overcome weaknesses first’ is played out every day in most of our homes, our schools, our institutions, and our places of work and worship.

The behaviors, the processes, the decisions that are weak or problematic in some way, are the first to grab attention. You focus on the things that “need fixing.”  What happens as a result is those behaviors, thoughts, feelings, decisions, and processes that are working well and bring you successes don’t attract the same attention or the investment of resources.

Do you think it’s a fair generalization to say that you invest energy, money, time, intellect, and emotion into things that don’t work for  you more than you  put energies into those things that will give you an easier and a much-better return for your efforts and investments?

The Task of Leadership

Key question: Are you better off investing in and developing strengths? – defined as innate talents that can be more easily and speedily developed – than dealing with weaknesses that can be worked around and will take more effort, time and resources and always be a struggle?

The late management and leadership guru, Peter Drucker’s quote is relevant more than ever:

 “The task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths, making our weaknesses irrelevant.”

Strength-based approaches to human and organization development and positive psychology, defined as the study of strengths, excellence, resilience, and optimal functioning in general, focus on people’s talents and gifts.

Your talents and gifts are your strengths. When people are performing in roles in which they play to their strengths, studies show that performance and satisfaction increase, productivity improves, and they have greater chance at achieving their full potential.  That’s from the book Now, Discover your Strengths, by Buckingham & Clifton (2001).

This is a radical departure from the long-held view that to help someone perform at his or her best, you work on improving the person’s weaknesses. This view is evidenced by the fact that in 2001 only 20 percent of employees in companies across the globe feel their strengths are in play on a daily basis or  “have the opportunity to do their best work”.  Good news is, in 2014, that statstic has jumped to an average of 30%.

Are you helping grow that statistic?  I sure hope so.  I know as an agent for positive change, I am.