“I’ve long said that in areas of skill, target strengths, and in areas of character, target weaknesses—because skills growth happens more naturally in areas where we’re not fighting it.” ~John Maxwell
Among the many leadership experts there are, for me, one stands far above the others when it comes to impact and longevity: John C. Maxwell. I listen to his podcasts weekly and I read his books and blogs.
One of the books that Maxwell wrote that I have used over and over in my life – as a mom, educator, and leader is, “Talent is Never Enough.” In this book, he shares that a leader’s effectiveness is determined by his leadership ability. He goes on to say that a leader, at any level in the organization should always be focusing on strengths, not weaknesses. His explanation goes like this — if one is weak in an area, say a 3 on a scale of 1-10; with a lot of work one might be able to rise to a 4 or 5 (still ineffective). On the other hand, if one is a 7, rising to an 8 or 9 is quite achievable, which is a great increase in effectiveness.
I have learned from experience that “natural talents” can only take you so far. When you are beginning your leadership journey, talents such as technical and analytical abilities are important, but as your journey progresses and you look to advance, you will find that you will need to transition your thinking from using not only your talents but also utilizing your strengths. These important strengths are connected to the highly regarded research found in MCREL’s 21 Leadership Responsibilities.
For example, when I took on a new role in my leadership journey, moving from a high achieving middle school to a large high school with some challenges, two of my skill strengths became especially crucial: being a change agent and remembering the importance of flexibility. This high school, like several schools, had challenges with student attendance, concerns about student behavior, and needed a boost in teacher morale. Being a change agent was critical to my leadership in shifting the learning culture of this 6A high school. Gradual adjustments needed to be implemented in order to make collaborative changes that sustained both student and faculty engagement while also resulting in incremental improvements in attendance and student behavior. Flexibility was key. The situation provided an opportunity for this leader to be okay with being uncomfortable, to grow in using my strengths and to ask questions about the way things had always been done.
A quick way to discover your strengths is to take one of the many “strength assessments” out there. Gallup has a Strength Finders Assessment that I took early in my career. The assessment ranks you on your top 5 plus 29 other strengths. Once you have your list of strengths, ask yourself the following questions:
In what areas of my life do I use these strengths?
How can I use more of my strengths at work so I am more fulfilled in what I do?
For me, learning both what my strengths were and what they were not, let me be the leader I knew I could always be. Let me be clear, however, it was not an opportunity to makes excuses for myself. Remember, as leaders we are frequently asked to do things that are not within our strengths “zone.” Getting out of our comfort zone is the only way to grow.
Do you agree or disagree with Maxwell that leaders should always be focusing on their strengths? Is there a time when we should work on our weaknesses?