Focusing on strengths

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on August 13, 2010 · 5 comments

This week in class (I’m running a session of Leading Lean at a client) I asked a question:

What’s better between focusing on your strengths or improving your weaknesses?

It’s one of those unanswerable questions designed to generate some dialogue and thought. What surprised me, although only a little, is that no one wanted to talk about their strengths and leveraging them. Everyone had very good and valid reasons to focus on improving their weaknesses. It is more natural and comfortable for people to focus on what’s broken and fix it, but I didn’t expect this to be the exclusive focus.


People put too little thought into their strengths and how they leverage them. We take them for granted. We think they are always going to be there and will naturally rise to the surface. But this isn’t the case. It requires thought and effort. Some questions to ask yourself:

  1. What are my strengths?
  2. Under what circumstances to they come to the surface?
  3. Am I using those strengths in the right situations?
  4. How can I leverage those strengths in more situations?
  5. How can I improve my strengths even more?

Here’s a way to look at it. If you were a basketball point guard measuring 6 feet, 3 inches, you probably are not a great post-player. Should you work on improving your post-up ability which is a weakness? Or should you work on improving your 3-point shooting which is a strength? You would find yourself in many more situations where the 3-point shooting would come in helpful, and that is likely a place to focus.


If that’s too obvious for you, let me also use a business example. I am a good speaker and presenter. I have many opportunities to leverage that strength. I am weaker when it comes to many things, but let’s pick billing systems as an example. I could learn more about how to build world-class billing systems, but it is more likely that I will get more advantage from continuing to hone my presentation abilities.

Do you spend time identifying, honing, and leveraging your strengths? If so, what has been the result?

1 Kevin August 13, 2010 at 8:20 am

Completely agree. But I will go one step further and say that instead of focusing on “improving weaknesses” organizations should provide some focus on “deleveraging weakness.” The terminology is important for its implication. Are weaknesses really weaknesses in the face of leveraging strengths? Are there other ways to overcome weaknesses aside from consuming constrained internal resources? Can the weak processes be performed by someone else, or even eliminated altogether? I’ve seen too many organization throw money at improving something that maybe they shouldn’t be doing at all, or maybe doesn’t even need to be done.

2 Jim Fernandez August 13, 2010 at 10:06 am

Very good.!!

Thank you for this post. I’m just starting a new lean culture program at my company. I’ve been focusing on our weaknesses. And now I’m thinking about what our strengths are as a company. And how can I leverage those strengths. Thx.

3 Kevin August 13, 2010 at 10:35 am

I also noticed that John Maxwell in his recent “21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader” suggests focusing 70% on strengths, 25% on new things, and only 5% on weakness.

4 Don Nelson August 13, 2010 at 11:46 am

Jamie – great post! The Gallup organization invested 40 years in the study of strengths. They found that successful leaders have only one thing in common – they build on their strengths and manage around their weaknesses. Your readers may be interested in the book Strengths Finder 2.0 to help identify their strengths.

5 Jamie Flinchbaugh August 13, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Kevin, I agree with that perspective. Thanks for sharing John Maxwell’s thoughts as well. I’m not sure I can really measure 5 percent of my focus, but the point is clearly made.

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