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To celebrate one’s new-found strengths may also make people less exploratory, change-oriented or eager to learn alternative approaches. They can perseverate on the past. As Maslow once said, if the only instrument you have is a hammer you tend to treat everything as if it were a nut.
Should one really ignore one’s weaknesses? No point on working on them at all? What about learning and development. Surely the strengths – based philosophy suggests one assigns people to tasks and areas of responsibility which allow them to use one’s strengths. And this robs them of learning something new: developmental opportunities, a bigger picture, diversity of experience.
Working one’s way to the top is about learning new ideas, approaches and skills as one ‘transitions’ through complexity. Ignoring weaknesses can excuse one the necessary and important work. Big jobs require many skills and strengths. You can’t just ignore that which you don’t have! The strengths approach can sound ego-centric, self-indulgent and delusionally optimistic. Bizarrely for such an upbeat creed it doesn’t emphasise growth but usage of that which is there.
Weaknesses left unchecked do damage. Amen. More importantly it can seem simplistic to divide the world into these clear categories. Are there not many examples of people who have turned weaknesses (like physical handicap) into their greatest strength, stutterers who become great orators; the Helen Kellers of this world?
But more of the many studies on management derailment show that great strengths, over-used, misapplied but over abundant can be great weaknesses. Whence the line between high self esteem and self-confidence and clinical narcissism? Where is the line between careful, rule-following, meticulousness and perfectionistic obsessive compulsiveness? Where is the line between colourful, dynamic and vivacious and narcissistic personality disorder.
Too much of a good thing? So you found your strengths? What took you so long? And now what? Insist your company use them whether they are relevant or not.
Certainly the strengths based message about maximising your innate gifts is correct. But a few ifs here: if you have a number relevant to your job, if you are prepared to learn new skills; if you also work on those things you have to do which you are not so good at and if you do not become an arrogant, over user of these talents you have. Hubris leads to nemesis. Few great leaders have not known what they are good at but they have also learnt to put in the work and effort to develop other’s skills and techniques that did not ‘come as easily’.