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Struggles with Wasting Time on Weaknesses

Struggles with Wasting Time on WeaknessesIf you’re not connected with me on LinkedIn you may have missed the discussion generated by my post, “Wasting Time on Weaknesses“. Some commentators like Richard Peterson agree that weakness-based improvement plans are demotivating and wasteful. He goes further to call people “delusional” who continue to focus on weaknesses despite the “overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”

Gary Walden doesn’t agree. He voices the common belief that “developing” means enhancing an area of weaker performance to become “well-rounded.” He suggests calling weaknesses “opportunities” to try giving them a more positive spin. He uses the example of a bodybuilder who doesn’t only work on “vanity muscles” but works even harder on weak spots.

Gary’s expressing common difficulties people have with taking a strengths-based approach. I am not sure the bodybuilder analogy works here. Our research shows that 3 – 5 strengths taken to the 90th percentile boosts leader effectiveness to the top 10 – 20th percentile. I don’t know much about bodybuilding (one look at me in a Speedo will confirm that!), but I doubt that building just a few muscles would have the same impact. Leadership — like all human interactions — is driven by perception. A few towering strengths (if not diminished by “fatal flaws”) dramatically drives up the overall perception of a leader and causes most people around him or her to respond accordingly.

Drew Williams agreed with Gary and sees building strengths as limiting the boundaries of personal development. I recognize where he’s coming from — because I was there for years — when he also supports the belief in well-rounded leaders. And he sees building strengths as only applying to senior leaders because people below that don’t have the option to work only on strengths and it limits their value to the organization.

My recent post, “Talent Management: Developing Strengths of Individual Contributors“, cites research and links to a white paper showing how building strengths at all levels is much more effective than focusing on weaknesses. My next blog post will look at the widely-held fallacy of the well-rounded leader.

Click here to read the full LinkedIn discussion about Wasting Time on Weaknesses. If you’re not connected to me on LinkedIn, please go to http://ca.linkedin.com/in/jimclemmer/ and send me an invitation to connect.


For over three decades, Jim Clemmer’s keynote presentations, workshops, management team retreats, seven bestselling books, articles, and blog have helped hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. The Clemmer Group is the Canadian strategic partner of Zenger Folkman, an award-winning firm best known for its unique evidence-driven, strengths-based system for developing extraordinary leaders and demonstrating the performance impact they have on organizations.


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