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Emphasizing Strengths

At work, would you rather engage in activities suited to your strengths or devote time to improving areas of weakness? I imagine most people would rather utilize their strengths, although there are some who thrive on challenges. When evaluating emplo

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Emphasizing Strengths

Why Employees Hear More Comments About Weakness Than Strengths

Perception Versus Reality

Many people, both “experts” and the general public, have the opinion that one of the major disappointments of the 21st century is the belief that perception is often equated with reality. From politics to sports to everyday living issues, reality has taken a back seat to perception as a driving force and basis for decisions.

The business community has been subject to this condition for many years. From the now archaic autocratic management styles of the early and middle 20th century to the preferred participative management philosophy (including employee empowerment) of contemporary business, perception has often equaled reality. Unfortunately, many employees are quickly judged using their weaknesses, not their strengths, as a basis for measurement.

Further confusion often results because identifying perceived weakness is easier than valuing strengths. For example, compare two baseball players. One is a fabulous combination of speed, athleticism, and grace, making even difficult plays appear easy. Another, with more limited skills, expends more effort, activity, and uncertainty making even routine plays. The mental picture of the challenged athlete is more vivid than the player with greater strengths.

Understanding the reasons for the apparent focus on needs and weaknesses more than strengths can help you become a better employee and re-energize your career. While you’ll create no hard and fast guarantees that your perceived strengths are stronger at your current job, you will become a much more attractive candidate for new, exciting positions.

Corporate Culture Quirks and Tendencies Create a Focus on Weakness

  • Employee development needs analysis targeted to weak points: Most employers that identify “needs” are really interchanging that word for “weakness." How many times have you discussed working to improve your already high-level performance? Few? Never? Addressing needs to further increase areas of an employee’s strength seldom occurs.
  • Performance appraisals structured toward weakness, not strength: Few employees or even managers disagree that most performance appraisals are focused on noting weaknesses and ways to improve more than recognizing strength. Performance appraisal structure makes it difficult for supervisors to change the focus, even if they wanted to do so.
  • Identifying and recording weakness is ingrained in many supervisors and managers: While most modern, successful organizations have incentive and reward programs for high performers, noting weakness first is ingrained in the psyches of many managers. Even successful, highly experienced executives view weakness more intently than strength. They were often trained under the principal, “A chain (team) is only as strong as its weakest link (member).”
  • Employee strengths sometimes viewed (perceived) as weaknesses: This problem is more common than most employers care to admit. For example, you might enjoy working alone and creating wonderful ideas and plans to save or make your company money. This is an obviously valuable strength. However, some managers may mistakenly view this as weakness. “He/she is a bit anti-social and not really a team player.” Wrong though it is, once again, this perception may become the reality.
  • Weak areas often become more prominent than strong performance: Down economies often magnify the perceived importance of this focus. As companies adopt a “survival” mode during recessionary times, they are more sensitive to weakness than they are apt to celebrate high performance. Believing they face a smaller margin of error, they further focus on eliminating weakness rather than targeting even better performance.

Actions That Improve Employee Skills and Performance

Ask yourself a simple question. “Do I enjoy working in my strong areas more than dedicating time trying to improve my weak areas?” Most will answer with a resounding “Yes!” Are you good at sports, writing poetry, playing the guitar, collecting stamps, or creating art? Do you enjoy doing these things you love? Of course. Do you equally enjoy doing things you don’t do well? Of course not.

This is just as true at the workplace. Those tasks in your job description that you enjoy usually reside in your strength list. Other required duties that you don’t enjoy will typically find their way to your weakness list. Sometimes the simple enjoyment you feel helps you perform better than when performing those tasks you dislike.

Here is a personal checklist of suggestions to help you increase your strengths—and your career options.

  • Dedicate yourself to improve the things you already do well: This is more effective, satisfying, and successful than dedicating many hours to eliminate a weakness.
  • Understand that improving your strengths will normally last much longer than the short-term benefits of minimizing weaknesses: Working to build more power to your strengths usually becomes a long-term benefit. Spending time (often double or triple the time) to combat your weak areas often creates only a temporary solution.
  • Focusing on your strengths improves your motivation, workplace enjoyment, and a better working environment. The basic fact that working in your strong areas is simply more fun and interesting generates other career improvement characteristics. You tend to become more motivated, dedicated, and less stressed at the workplace.

The tendency of employers to focus on employee weakness more than strength is a reality. Accept it and move on. Notice that the word “ignore” is not appropriate. Understanding that you may continue to hear more about weakness than strength should lead you to adopt some personal workplace strategies that will improve both your current performance and future career.

As you traverse the corporate ladder (hopefully dramatically upward), you may at some point have the ability to implement some of these more positive strategies on those under your supervision, thereby improving their performance while making senior management pleased with your own.