Correct weakness or build strength?Stop me if you’ve heard this one:

A young girl’s elementary teacher hears little Sophia sing at school and recognizes what a beautiful voice she has. The teacher encourages the girl to nurture her gift and has her sing a solo at a school concert. Sophia’s pure, clear voice and passion for music enchants everyone and generates the buzz of the evening. Her parents are encouraged to provide voice training and singing lessons for her.

Sophia’s music teacher was determined to perfect her voice by removing occasional wavers, improving her breathing, clarifying her dictation, and learning proper posture. He chose practice songs that Sophia didn’t enjoy singing to force her to address her deficiencies. Sophia became self-conscious and lost confidence under her teacher’s constant corrections. Singing lessons became an unpleasant chore. After numerous fights with her parents she dropped out of the lessons and stopped singing.

A few years later Sophia was at a party where the kids were having fun with karaoke. She sang a few of her favorite songs with friends and a couple on her own. She blew the audience away with her powerful voice. Sophia started singing at more parties. Soon she was asked to perform at school, weddings, and social events.

Sophia recorded a few You Tube videos of songs she loved singing. The leader of a popular local band saw the videos and asked her to join their group. During one of their gigs an agent scouting for fresh young talent heard her sing. She recognized Sophia’s passion and very strong abilities. The agent helped her get coaching suited to her personality and musical style. Today Sophia’s building a successful singing and songwriting career.

This is a story with many versions. Sophia’s story is a positive one. Many aren’t. Too often, focusing on correcting mistakes and fixing weaknesses reduces confidence and effectiveness. How many talented people haven’t built on their strengths and passion?

For decades psychologists and counselors have focused on what’s wrong rather than what’s right. Since founding the new field of positive psychology in 1998, Martin Seligman and his colleagues have assembled a mountain of evidence showing that building on, and strengthening, what’s right is far more effective.

Tomorrow we publish my July blog post in the August issue of The Leader Letter  (click here to receive it via email). This month’s issue features a review of Seligman’s new book and quotes chosen to drive you to thinking. His memoir and history of this revolutionary approach show how psychology is rapidly changing its negative approach. Unfortunately, leadership development and coaching are still stuck back in the sixties. Despite the evidence, 360 assessments, performance management, and leadership training still focus on fixing weaknesses. It’s a major reason for “the great training robbery” that’s sucking up so much time and money with dismal returns on investment.

Is it time to assess your balance of pessimism/optimism, negative/positive, or weakness/strengths focus? And as you’ll find in this issue, is this the time to assess how to use your time? This issue also spotlights a common challenge to increasing customer service; do we agree on what it is and who defines it? It’s a vital leadership and culture development issue.

May you find a few bits of inspiration to help you sing  — or lead — at your best!