What should we talk about strengths – or realities?

What an attractive promise – identify your strengths and then concentrate on utilising them to their full extent, ignoring your weaknesses. Many clients I see now talk enthusiastically (due to some wonderful marketing of certain products) about using strengths and not concentrating on weaknesses. The belief is that we spend too much time focusing on weaknesses and not enough time on developing strengths. Now conceptually we could not be more in agreement – you need to utilise your strengths to the full, they are the avenue to what you can become. We also know that if you only ever look for what’s wrong you will find plenty of things – and miss lots of potential – we get that. However you also need to not overdo your strengths, nor ignore your weaknesses.

Let me illustrate. Bradley Wiggins was a fantastic cyclist, however he was poor on high altitude work and the climbs. Sure he knew his strengths – but the biggest difference to his

You don’t get here by only using strengths and ignoring weaknesses.

performances, making him a stand out winner – was working hard on the bit that let him down. Jess Ennis did not win her gold medal by ignoring her weaker events and purely concentrating on the sprints. If you had a leader who was brilliant technically but hopeless at leading his or her team would you promote them and do nothing about the problem area? Surely you wouldn’t ignore their weaknesses knowing the impact it would have on those around him/her? Oops bad example – for that is exactly what a number of my clients do, later mutually agreeing to part company as ‘things didn’t work out’. There’s a surprise. That’s what you get when you ignore weaker areas.On the other hand can you overuse your strengths?


Of course you can – and in fact in our coaching work we find that over used strengths are much more typically the seeds of downfall for people than their weaknesses. If we are less good at something we often concentrate harder at it, knowing it needs our full attention to get it right and make it work at an acceptable level. When we believe we can use our natural capabilities without thinking we can overdo it. For those of you in the UK think of Andrew Mitchell the Tory MP and his spat with the police officers at Downing Street when his confidence and self belief flipped into arrogance and his downfall. Colleagues in Italy and France may look no further than some key leaders and how their personal ‘charm’ became overdone and led to somewhat embarrassing stories with a variety of women. Imagine the salesperson who is brilliant at building rapport with clients however dislikes closure – what would you encourage her to do – build more rapport?!

Another cyclist – this one over used his strengths

Becoming the best we can and managing our careers, or reaching our dreams usually means 1) learning some things that do not come naturally 2) making sure our strengths do not become overdone and become our Achilles heel 3) using our strengths appropriately. Whether we work with key executives, managers, salespeople or specialists we help people both identify strengths and manage weaker areas. It’s the combination that brings sustainable success.

Coaches that do not challenge their clients at all can be very popular, but will they really help to the level the client needs? Leadership programmes that don’t address real issues working only at a superficial level, can produce a fun excursion from the pressures of work and boost esteem for a day or two, but will they deliver a result over time? As the experts we need to do the most we can to enable the people we work with get the results they desire. Ignoring crucial areas and bad news is tempting – but helps nobody over time.


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