Is Your Culture Built on a Weak Foundation?In the opening lines of the chapter entitled, “Making Strength Productive” in his 1967 book The Effective Executive, the “father of modern management,” Peter Drucker writes, “to make strength productive is the unique purpose of organization. It cannot, of course, overcome the weakness with which each of us is abundantly endowed. But it can make them irrelevant. Its task is to use the strength of each man as a building block for joint performance.”

It has taken decades for leadership research to catch up to Drucker’s leading-edge thinking. Pioneering organizations like Zenger Folkman now have a research body of assessments on over 50,000 leaders by more than 500,000 direct reports, managers, peers, and others who work directly with them. As first documented in their groundbreaking book, The Extraordinary Leader: Turning Good Managers into Great Leaders, and just updated last year in How to Be Exceptional: Drive Leadership Success by Magnifying Your Strengths strengths-based approaches are 2 – 3 times more effective than our traditional focus on weaknesses.

Here are the fundamental differences we see in defining a team or organization’s cultural foundation:



Command and control (closed) Participatory partnering (open)
Catching people doing things wrong Reinforce people doing things right
Fear and force Courage and cooperation
Focus on gaps/weakness/what’s wrong Build on strengths/what’s right
Look for the worst in people Bring out the best in others
Push and punish Pull and coach

Two clear signs of an organization’s cultural foundation are found in performance appraisals and training needs analysis. Most people dread giving and receiving performance appraisals because they focus mostly on “areas for improvement” or weaknesses to be fixed. And most training needs analyzes are really a weakness analysis to identify the remedial training needed to fix gaps. This is one reason leadership development programs have had very little impact in most organizations.

Growing evidence from multiple sources is showing that strengths-based approaches lead to better parenting, lasting marriages, stronger teams, more effective leadership development, and peak organization performance. What’s your team or organization’s cultural foundation?