Wasting Time on WeaknessesFixing weaknesses is so deeply ingrained in our practices and beliefs. When coaching or having performance discussions with a team member, most leaders will quickly gloss over strengths to address “improvement areas.”

After reading How to Be Exceptional: Drive Leadership Success by Magnifying Your Strengths, Janet Pierce, Vice President of Education for Certified General Accountants of Ontario, sent me this e-mail:

“Thank you so much for sharing this book with me. I came down with the flu after Christmas so I curled up on the couch with my dog and read this book over two days. It resonated with me like few books do — namely the current practice of focusing excessively on ‘fixing’ people’s weaknesses.

I recall at a recent company I worked for, my 360 feedback had results in 5 main performance/skill domains ranging from 4.0 to 4.8 out of 5 (all in the top decile). My lowest score of 4.0 was listening skills. Now 4 is not a bad score, but this is where I spent most of my discussion time with my CEO. As part of my development activities for the upcoming year I had to take a training course in listening skills.

That time could have been better spent using my creative skills on building something new for the organization that would have had a much higher ROI. Invariably I did the latter anyway (because I don’t listen well… 🙂 ).”

Unfortunately, Janet’s experience is far too common. It’s one of the biggest reasons most 360 feedback assessments and performance management systems aren’t effective. They’re focused on weaknesses. Unless there’s a serious deficiency that needs to be addressed, weakness-based improvement plans are demotivating and wasteful.

Tomorrow we publish my January blog posts in the February issue of The Leader Letter. It features research on how we’re hard-wired to overlook positives or strengths and zero in on negatives and weaknesses. Yet the science of happiness and leadership development shows much higher happiness and leadership effectiveness comes from rewiring our brains to accentuate the positive and build strengths.

Reversing years of conditioning isn’t easy. But the pay-offs are huge. And we now have proven methodologies showing how to do it.