Know What You Do Well and Build On It

Einstein QuoteFor the past 20 years or so, I have used 360 degree feedback tools to help leaders continue to learn and grow. I think they are extremely valuable in helping people see where they are at; what strengths to leverage; and, what improvement opportunities exist.

While extremely valuable, a mistake I regularly see is the desire to focus only on the negative. Now, I understand this. By nature, when I look at something I’ve done, it is easier for me to talk about what still needs to be improved versus commenting on what was right. When it comes to my own self-examination, I have a nasty inner critic of excellence that tells me to do more, do better, change, or adjust.

I know I’m not alone here. Whether it is 360 feedback, development planning, or project reviews, I see many leaders focusing on weaknesses versus strengths.

This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. Having a desire to continue to improve is great. Wanting to close gaps is commendable. But, where that inner critic gets in the way is when it blocks the examination of what went well and how best to leverage that and/or repeat it in the future.

We can spend enormous amounts of time trying to address a weakness and close a gap—often only by very small increments. For example, I am impatient. I have been given feedback that I’m impatient. This feedback was given 20 years ago, 20 months ago, and yesterday. While I have improved, I may never totally close this gap—regardless of how much energy I spend. That same amount of energy could help me make huge leaps if I focus on something I do well and how to leverage that even more.

So when you look at your own leadership development (or look to guide the development efforts of those around you), remember to focus not just on improvement opportunities, but also on enhancing the strengths. I’m not giving you permission to ignore the gaps—I think they should be attended to. In some cases, we just need to quit doing something that is getting in our way of maximizing performance. And never use the excuse of “well that’s just the way I am” as permission for unacceptable behavior. But, as pointed out by Albert Einstein in the quote above, “if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”

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