Work those strengths

The world’s top golfers aren’t great at all aspects of the game. Top musicians aren’t great at playing every instrument. Richard Branson is a very successful businessman but the first to admit that he has certain things he excels at, and a number that he knows he is not good at.

So why, as ‘regular’ business leaders, do we still think we need to be good at everything? When we are presented with the results from a 360 feedback/performance review, why do we first look for the areas where we haven’t scored so well? Then we build these elements into our development plan for the year and look to improve them. In many cases we even ignore the strengths.

In their book Now, Discover Your Strengths, Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton describe the results of research carried out over many years into what delivers high performance in individuals and companies. Based on that research they recommend a focus on building strengths rather than correcting weaknesses.

If you have ever tried to develop an area in which you are naturally weak, you will remember the process as a hard slog as compared to doing what comes naturally. Maybe after a while, if you persisted, you would have become a bit better at the area. However, it is unlikely that you would ever have become an expert in it, unless you were able to spend thousands of hours focused on it.

Buckingham and Clifton argue that it is much more impactful to identify the five or six areas in which you are most talented (e.g. planning and organising; relating to other people; researching; innovating etc. etc.) and to find a way to leverage these, rather than look to develop areas in which you are not naturally gifted.

This is not to say that you can simply ignore what are often called ‘fatal flaws’ or ‘career limiters’ if these are really getting in the way. If you have elements such as these then it is vital to do some work to move them away from the danger zone. But don’t look to work on every area where you have been identified as having some form of weakness / development.

Next steps

If the above makes some sense to you, start the process by:

  • Taking a bit of time to identify the things that you are naturally talented at. Sometimes you will know this intuitively, but you may also want to check in with a few people who know you well and ask them what they value about you or see as your strengths.
  • Take careful note of what they say because very often we underestimate the strengths we have and assume everyone has them.
  • Armed with your list of personal strengths and talents look critically at how well (or not) you are using these in your current role.
  • Think about what you could do differently to leverage the strengths you have and develop these further.
  • Capture your thinking in your ‘development plan’ (or perhaps we should be calling it a ‘strength plan’) and put in place actions to make full use of these areas.
  • Then notice how your energy levels pick up; your overall performance and enjoyment improves and your manager’s rating of you increases, despite still having a number of areas of weakness (like we all do). 


Douglas Lang is a director with Altris Limited ( specialising in leadership development and coaching.

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