Build Strengths that Play to your PassionsThe “dark side” of fixing weaknesses is very alluring.

Last week I was facilitating our Extraordinary Leader workshop with a group of senior leaders. This was a highly experienced team who were strongly motivated to improve their organization and their own effectiveness. All participants had been through 360 feedback assessments before. Many reported feeling beat up by past feedback reports and some experienced an erosion of confidence.

Through reviewing pre/post on building strengths versus fixing weaknesses, discussing a case study, and their experiences with the best and worst leaders they’ve known, we developed a strong acknowledgement that fixing weaknesses can help a leader move from poor leadership to at or even above average. But the absence of weaknesses doesn’t move a leader from good to great.

By looking for the overlap of strengths, organizational need (both based on feedback from their raters), and personal passion, most participants found their leadership sweet spot. However, when choosing what to focus their personal development plans on strengthening, a few leaders were still drawn to the dark side of fixing weaker areas. In a few one-on-one discussions I asked each leader which of the two or three areas he or she was considering they loved to do. Each response was immediate and heartfelt; they knew exactly which one he or she enjoyed most. And there’s the answer — if you’re not addressing a major problem that needs fixing, work on what you love to do.

One reason our data shows that building leadership strengths is 2 – 3 times more effective than fixing weaknesses is the energizing role passion plays in sustaining our development efforts. Zenger Folkman surveyed participants to see how they reported on the quality, progress, time invested, and results of their personal development plan. The Powerful Impact of Building Strengths chart shows a striking response to the statement “I have created an excellent development plan that will guide my efforts to improve.” Just 13% of leaders focused on fixing weaknesses agreed with that statement versus 63% of leaders who were building strengths.

As the German philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel once observed, “nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion.”