The existing paradigm of focus first on weakness is played out every day in most of our homes, our schools, our institutions, our place of work and worship. We focus on the things that “need fixing”. We invest energy, money, time, intellect, emotion into things that don’t work for us instead of putting energies into those things that will give us an easier and a much-amplified return for our efforts and investments. Simply, what we focus on grows.
Punters at the racetrack don't place their hard-earned money on the weakest horse in the race. They bet on the best and the strongest. Owners and trainers of racehorses invest in nurturing and developing the strengths of each individual horse. It’s not to say, they discount or ignore their weak areas. They work on the principle, that the return on investment will come from developing what is already a natural strength in each horse.
When training for a triathlon, cycling was my strength, running was in the middle and swimming was my weakest stage. To perform at my best, it was the cycling I needed to excel at. I could get into the zone when I cycled. I was at one with the bike, torso parallel to the road, legs dancing on the pedals, feeling the exhilaration of my rhythmic cadence, the wind flowing over me as I challenging myself to go faster and faster. It was hard work and it was pure joy. I trained in running, but it took much more effort to feel pleasure above pain. No matter how much I trained, I would never bring my running up to a standard that would exceed my performance on the bike. When it came to swimming, I trained just to be able to compete, damage control as it’s known as. Had I invested all my time in my weakest stage, I would have jeopardized my overall performance and would have certainly dampened the pleasure and reward I got out of participating in a triathlon.
Similarly, if you were the coach of a successful swimming team, you’d know the strengths and weaknesses of all you team members. In order to get the best out of the team, you’d invest greater effort on developing the strengths of each team member to optimize their performance. You would also work with them to overcome their weaknesses for necessary damage control. The biggest investment of your time, effort and money, however, would be in building the strengths of each team member. You would not do it the other way round – focus on individuals’ weaknesses, at the cost of their natural talents and strengths.
It seems we know this in the sports arena. Yet, when it comes to organizational contexts, don’t we do it the other way round? A vast majority of leaders still think we need to eliminate weaknesses in order to get optimal performance. Peter Drucker, (1919-2005), one of the most influential thinkers on leadership and management, stressed that the role of leadership is to build on organizational strengths so that weaknesses seem irrelevant. Weaknesses cannot be ignored. But to develop and improve performance, it is more resourceful to focus on what already works well. In other words, investing in organizations, especially human capital, for the greatest return. Recently, I was contracted to coach a number of highly talented women in a professional services firm. All six came to their first coaching session with their 360 performance review reports. The first gesture of each person was to go the end of the document and point to the feedback of their manager with the comments, “These are my weaknesses. These are the areas my manager wants me to work on.”
How does this resonate with you? What do you and your organizations invest in? It would be terrific to have your comments.