Today’s post is by Jack Zenger, author of How To Be Exceptional: Drive Leadership Success By Magnifying Your Strengths (CLICK HERE to buy your copy now). Here’s Jack…
There is psychological problem that some people experience called body dysmorphic disorder, sometimes referred to as imagined ugliness. People with this disorder exaggerate a small flaw in their appearance and perceive themselves to be completely ugly or grotesque. They cannot stop thinking about this minor or imagined flaw.
In many ways, believing that a small weakness will crater a person’s overall effectiveness is a similar serious misperception.
In talking with groups about strengths and weaknesses, we often ask the groups to think of the best leader that they have ever worked with, know of, or read about. After describing this leader’s profound strengths, we ask the question, “Did this leader have any weaknesses?” Almost everyone says yes; and when we ask people to describe what the weakness was, we are frequently surprised to hear things like:
- “He would occasionally lose his temper.”
- “This leader was very shortsighted.”
- “She failed to appreciate other people.”
- “He did not understand the technology.”
When asked why the weaknesses did not hurt the leaders, the reply is always the same, though expressed in slightly different words. The message is because their strengths are so profound.
In our experience, if the issues are not “fatal flaws,” then people will not overreact to them. If a leader receives feedback and makes an effort to improve, others will be impressed.
The philosophy of building strengths suggests that leaders ought to find a way to stand out and differentiate themselves. Others will notice our abilities, not our disabilities. Using the building-strengths philosophy, an individual selects competencies for improvement in areas that they enjoy and that will have the greatest impact.
There are a variety of benefits that come from building strengths:
A few years ago, we were having an end-of-the-day debrief discussion with a successful executive at Boeing. He had moved his part of the organization forward in profitability, efficiency and quality. Two different organizations he led were able to win the coveted Baldrige Award at Boeing. In the discussion, he was asked if the key to leadership improvement was that leaders find and address the one right issue that needed improvement. He restated the question by saying, “Is the key to improvement finding the one right issue that needs to be changed?” After taking a few moments to consider his reply, he then said:
I think what is important is that a leader does something—anything—to improve. Perhaps a few leaders need to address a specific issue, but I see leaders who expend all their energy trying to find that one right issue for improvement and who never get around to doing anything. If a leader selects an issue that they can make progress on and that moves them forward, then my experience is that this improvement will make a positive difference in their team. Doing something is much better than doing nothing.
Building strengths increases the likelihood that leaders will do something.
- Jack Zenger is the CEO of Zenger Folkman and co-author of How To Be Exceptional: Drive Leadership Success By Magnifying Your Strengths. A free ebook preview is available.