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03.04 – Assessing Strengths or Weaknesses?

03.04 - Assessing Strengths or Weaknesses?
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When you think about assessing your team, your individual team members, the second important question that you must be able to answer, the first one was, why am I assessing? And what am I assessing? The second important question that you must be able to answer is, am I gonna focus on weaknesses or strengths, or both? So for example, quotes from famous people that you may or may not have heard of. Knute Rockne, famous Notre Dame football coach said, build up your weaknesses until they become strengths. This is a particular perspective, which is pretty common in organizations today. Let’s identify the weaknesses that this person has, and now let’s create a development plan to work on those weaknesses.
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Put that person in experiences where we’ll stretch them along these weaknesses. Until those weaknesses become strengths. The gap analysis, or what we often call the deficit approach, but the focus here is on weaknesses, gaps, and doing whatever it takes to fill or address those gaps. But there’s a different perspective, which is captured in the strengths based perspective, and a quote here. Success is achieved by developing our strengths, not by eliminating our weaknesses. Very different different perspective.
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And so, what I want to encourage you to think about when you are entertaining the idea of what assessments to use, how to use those assessments when coaching and developing your talent is, am I gonna focus on weaknesses, which is pretty typical or standard in organizations today. Or, am I going to use assessments to identify their strengths and then figure out ways to leverage and develop those strengths even further. Or, is it gonna be some combination of the two. So again, the weaknesses approach or the gap approach is I’m gonna use an assessment to identify the weakness and then create developmental experiences to address the weakness.
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The strengths base approach is that I’m going to use the assessment to identify where and how is this person really strong, as an individual or as a team member. And then figure out ways to use experiences to leverage and further develop those strengths. So let’s talk about that strengths based approach. There was a book written, a Strengths-based Leadership,
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in that book I found a quote by one of the authors who said: if you spend your life trying to be good at everything you will never be great at anything. While our society encourages us to be well-rounded, this approach inadvertently breads mediocrity. The great leaders that they studied in this book are not well-rounded individuals. They’ve become world-class in a relatively limited number of areas of leadership. They argued the concept of well-roundedness is an illusion. Really all that happens when people try to fix their weaknesses is that they spend inordinate amounts of time trying to become marginally better in area that they will never be particularly strong. That is the essence of the strengths based perspective.
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I’ll give you a data driven example from the world of sports that really illustrates the essence, the power, of this strengths based approach. Tiger Woods, arguably one of the most famous golfers in history. I went and I analyzed his most dominant or successful golf season in his career. It was in the year 2000. In 2000, he competed in 20 total tournaments. In 13 of those 20 tournaments, he finished either first or second. And he finished top ten, in 17 of the 20.
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In terms of these statistics that are used to measure or assess golfers and their performance, he was number one in greens and regulation He was number two in driving distance, how far he hit it off of the tee. He was number three in a statistic called scrambling. That statistic captures the degree to which when golfers hit it off course, their ability to get it back on course, and get it to the hole. And he earned a significant amount of money, over $9 million in winnings that year. When we look at his dominant performance across that season, it’s really easy to conclude that he was perfect. He was great at everything. But that’s simply not the case.
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If you look at other statistics, he was middle of the road. He was mediocre at things like his ability to get out of sand traps. Even putting, he was a mediocre at his ability to avoid three putting on the green. And so whether it was sand saves or putting those were not his strengths. His strengths largely had to do with driving the ball, getting it to the green, the long game, the long distance aspects of his golf game and less so in the short game aspects of golf. Putting and sand traps and so this is someone who obviously performed really well at his task, but, he wasn’t great at everything. He was great at a few things.
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And then really found ways to leverage those few things to create success for himself. That is the essence of the strengths based approach is let’s identify what are the few areas that we’re really strong at and then put ourselves in positions to leverage those strengths to in order to enable us to be successful. Gallup did a very interesting study of employees around the world. Looking at the degree to which employees felt that they were able to use their strengths everyday at work. The question at work do you have the opportunity to do what you do best everyday, almost 200,000 employees across the globe completed this survey.
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Interestingly, 80% of the employees who completed this survey did not feel that their strengths were used everyday. But in the organizations where their strengths were used, you saw less employee turnover, or attrition. You saw more productive business units, financially, better results. And then, you saw higher customer satisfaction scores. So, it wasn’t just that the business was performing better, but the customers were actually more satisfied. What we’re finding in our research today is that the traditional weakness approach to assessment and development is insufficient. It’s not that we want to ignore the weaknesses.
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If there are certain weaknesses that we must improve in order to even be of viable team members and be able to work on a specific task, we have to meet a certain threshold. But in order to achieve excellence, in order to achieve exceptional results, what we’re finding is that leaders and teams are discovering through assessment whether what are our strengths and then finding ways to develop and leverage those strengths even further. Nelson Mandela in his 1995 speech
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at his inauguration quoted the words of Marianne Williamson in ways that I think really captures the essence of this strengths based approach to coaching and developing your talent. He said, again quoting Marianne Williamson, our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Out deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Nelson Mandela said actually who are we not to be those things, your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. He said we are all meant to shine, just as children do.
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It is not just in some of us. It is in every one of us. So again, as you think about assessment, think about not only assessing what are people weak at. But also what are they exceptional at? And then think about not only how can you address the weaknesses but also how do you further develop and leverage those strengths so that your team and the individuals working in that team can be exceptional and achieve the goals and the aspirations that you are setting for them as their leader.
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