Focus on What's Strong, Not What's Wrong
Last week, I attended my fifth “In The Lead” graduation for the Calgary Youth Justice Society where the speeches reminded me that focusing on our strengths is our clearest path to development. It's hard to resist focusing on our weaknesses, especially when they are painful gaps and even more painful when pointed out by others in feedback, a 360 result or an inappropriate comment from someone in the ‘cheap seats’.
The In The Lead program is a leadership program for youth who are not the valedictorian or highest achieving students at school. It’s for those whose leadership strengths aren’t easy to spot, who face challenges and obstacles in life as a whole. It helps them learn about and appreciate their strengths in a positive environment to build resilience, courage, self-confidence by being seen and heard for who they really are.
While I was inspired by the speeches from inspirational young leaders and their volunteer coaches, what struck me most was the unique introduction for each graduating young leader. Those introductions were carefully and thoughtfully written descriptions of each leader’s strengths and specifically how they create a positive impact in the world using those strengths. When is the last time you acknowledged your strengths instead of your shortcomings?
Through my work with leaders, we often explore feedback and assessments to help each leader understand where they are in their development journey. Without fail, most leaders jump to their gaps quickly although we start with looking at their strengths. Some are crushed by their weak areas and completely dismiss the value of their strengths yet almost every single one has created significant success for themselves and their organizations.
The problem with focusing on your weaknesses is that you spend all your time attempting to fix what’s wrong and energy on trying to “be” someone else. Development comes from focusing on what’s strong and leveraging your strengths to use them in new ways to create future successes. As you consider your development going forward, how can a strength focused perspective help you look at your development differently?
After reviewing 360 feedback in one coaching session, my client returned to our next coaching session having decided to become “Mr. Softy” and a development plan focused on all his relationship weaknesses. As we walked through his plan, I referred back to his tasks focused strengths and inquired how the plan would leverage those strengths to which he replied: “it won’t”. As we worked through his feedback a second time, we connected with his strengths and how they created his successes to date and explored how they could be leveraged differently given his increasing strategic role. By the end of our session, he was able to reframe his development plan towards one that leveraged his strengths and rounded them out with some new skills to complement them. The plan went from something daunting and unachievable to one that felt possible and encouraging.
An effective leadership development plan begins with acknowledging your top strengths and a description of how you’d like to be using those strengths in the future (vision). An excellent starting point is to write an overview of your strengths and their impact. What would your introduction be if you graduated from your own strengths-based leadership program? I challenge you to write it.