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Should We Focus on Strengths or Weaknesses?

It takes far less energy to move from first-rate performance to excellence than it does to move from incompetence to mediocrity. Peter Drucker

Most people would agree that developing people is an important component of building a successful company.  Although it is fairly common for organizations to have some sort of process aimed at developing people, however, very few seem to be effective at truly improving individual performance.

In many organizations, the development process consists of little more than an annual or semi-annual meeting between boss and worker where strengths are briefly mentioned and weaknesses are covered in detail.  After all, we feel good about a person’s strengths, so why should we waste time discussing them?  If we can improve or eliminate a person’s weaknesses, the individual and the organization will improve, right?

In The Effective Executive, Peter Drucker wrote that, by focusing on our weaknesses, the best we can achieve is mediocrity.  If, on the other hand, we work on further developing our strengths, we can achieve greatness.

We excel in the areas that motivate us, while our weaknesses tend to consist of the things that do not interest us or, for whatever reason, we are unable to improve.  Focusing attention on developing the things we either can’t improve or aren’t interested in improving leads to frustration, stress, and de-motivation.

Motivation results when people when we are able to create a workplace where people can have fun.  One important aspect of this is assuring that people are able to effectively utilize and develop their strengths.

Addressing the Organization’s Weaknesses

While it is important to understand the skill gaps that exist within the organization, closing them requires an effective hiring process that enables the right mix of talent and ability to operate effectively.  In other words, successful leadership requires putting together a team where individual strengths complement one another and people are able to effectively cover each other’s weaknesses.

Besides the negative effects on motivation, attempting to close gaps by forcing people to work on their weaknesses takes attention away from further developing strengths which can be much more valuable to the organization and the individual in the long run.


About Gregg Stocker

Gregg Stocker is a lean advisor for Hess Corporation. He possesses over 20 years experience in a variety of disciplines including operations, manufacturing, human resources, quality, and strategic planning, and has worked in manufacturing, service, and oil & gas industries. He has extensive international experience, including successfully leading an $65 million business in The Netherlands. He authored the book, “Avoiding the Corporate Death Spiral: Recognizing & Eliminating the Signs of Decline,” (Quality Press, 2006) and was a contributing author to "The Lean Handbook," (Quality Press, 2012). Gregg is a frequent speaker and recognized expert in business and performance improvement having been interviewed on television, radio, and in a number of newspaper and magazine articles including The New York Times, Washington Post, BusinessWeek, and InformationWeek. Gregg has implemented change in organizations ranging in size from $10 million to more than $100 billion. He is a team-oriented leader who achieves results by improving teamwork, focus, and communication throughout the organization.


One thought on “Should We Focus on Strengths or Weaknesses?

  1. This ties right in with the work done by David Cooperider in regard to AI: Appreciative Inquiry. Cooperider encourages work groups to describe times when they were at their best in regard to a subject and use those identified strengths to improve on the current state.


    Good stuff…thanks for sharing

    Posted by Kevin Fisher | January 18, 2013, 11:40 am

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