building on existing strengths instead of fixing weaknesses

Most organizations we’re working with today have declared a set of values. Posters, slides, banners, screen savers, newsletters, flyers, and framed parchments proclaim what the organization stands for.

Many of these values statements assert a commitment to excellence, respect and integrity, customer focus, teamwork and collaboration, service/quality, responsiveness and the like. This is an important culture foundation. Values can provide clarity for key people practices like hiring, promoting, recognizing, and coaching. Clear values set clear priorities and guide the behaviors that shape the organization’s culture (“the way we do things around here”).

These statements of good intentions were put together for all the right reasons by sincere leaders who often sweated and debated every word and comma. But like New Year’s resolutions there’s a big difference between aspiration and implementation. Too often these well crafted values statements are a bunch of positive words hanging on a wall. In many cases they have a “high snicker factor.” What’s declared isn’t what most people see their leaders living each day.

Very few leaders are Machiavellian manipulators deliberately mouthing values he or she doesn’t intend to follow. Most are innocently ignorant. They are part of leadership teams who don’t recognize the subtle and often unconscious disconnects between words and deeds.

As we’re now helping leaders and leadership teams understand the powerful and transformative impact strengths-based leadership can have on their effectiveness, we’re getting into eye-opening discussions on cultural anchor points. It starts with a look at this slide:

Culture Anchor
This shows a culture continuum from extreme focus on weaknesses on the left to strengths on the right. Of course, no culture is a pure form of just one or the other. Organizational cultures blend elements of both.

The discussion progresses along these lines:

  • Which side are our aspired values anchored in? Values like excellence, respect, integrity, customer focus, teamwork, collaboration, or service/quality are anchored in strengths and positivity.
  • Which approach do our frontline staff, customers, and other team members want to experience every day? Leaders instantly recognize we all want to live and leverage from strengths. Research ranging from engagement surveys, customer satisfaction, team effectiveness, Emotional Intelligence, to Positive Psychology proves it.
  • Where are our management systems and leadership practices anchored? Performance appraisals, training needs analysis, competency models, operational reviews, continuous improvement programs, and such are focused on finding and fixing weaknesses.

There’s our basic — and huge — disconnect. We declare values anchored in strengths and positive energy while leading with a focus on weaknesses and negativity.

What’s your culture anchored in?