In recent keynote presentations and workshops with HR and leadership development professionals, more and more participants have been embracing the approach of building on strengths. When presented with the powerful evidence and logic of strengths-based leadership development, most people are convinced.
But it’s tough to let go of deeply ingrained practices and “conventional wisdom.” One participant recently sent me an e-mail after a session with this comment:
“There is certainly value to building on strengths. However, I rarely notice mention of key competencies required for any management role and the absolute need to demonstrate all of these competencies. The inability to demonstrate key competencies cannot be overlooked, no matter how great one builds on existing strengths.”
I used to think the same way. My leadership books and our decades of leadership development work were built around the same belief: outstanding leaders demonstrate most if not all the skills of a leadership framework or competency model. It’s a bit daunting and exhilarating to be proven wrong with a growing mountain of research and first-hand experience as we work to develop extraordinary leaders.
Skills or competencies vital to a leader’s role often need to be focused on. What’s so revolutionary and powerful about Zenger Folkman’s groundbreaking research on strengths-based leadership development is that leaders don’t need to be superheroes and demonstrate all or even most of the competencies.
If a leader is perceived as seriously deficient in a leadership competency that’s critical to their role, he or she needs to develop that skill. Otherwise this is a “towering weakness” that others can’t see past to his or her strengths.
Fortunately, few leaders are in that position. Our research clearly demonstrates that developing just 3 competencies from good to great (90th percentile) will boost overall leadership effectiveness to the 80th percentile of 50,000 leaders in our database. Taking just two more competencies to great or profound strength (for a total of 5 out of 16) moves that leader to the top 10% of all leaders worldwide! This is part of the mind bending shift in thinking I’ve gone through in the past year. You can read my changing perspectives and big shift in thinking at Manifesto for a Leadership Development Revolution.
This shift from a weakness-focused approach has huge implications for traditional approaches to leadership competency models. I wrote about that in Leadership Competency Models: Why Many Are Failing and How to Make them Flourish.
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