Once upon a time the animals decided to set up a school that would help their children develop all-rounded personality: ability to run, climb, fly and swim.
The duck was excellent in swimming; he did better than his teacher! But, he just scraped through flying; and running was near impossible. Since he was poor in running, he had to take extra classes in running. He had to drop out of swimming as he was too busy focusing on running. This was kept up until his webbed feet were badly worn and he managed to become at least an average in running. To the poor duck’s horror, he ended up an average in swimming as well because of his worn out feet!
I am sure this story rings a bell for most of us! What did the duck achieve by focusing on running? And imagine what it could have achieved had it focused all its energies on swimming?
Let me bring it closer home by sharing the story of my cousin. He is several years younger to me; so I have seen him growing up. He was really a bad student; he could barely concentrate in his studies. So much so, that he failed in his school leaving examination and lost a year. His parents were at their wits ends and simply didn’t know what to do with him. He was a nice kid, would sit with his books for long hours! But nothing seemed to get into his head. One could see the frustration in his face; future seemed bleak!
Around this time, a family friend came as an angel spirit. After chatting with my cousin for several days, he advised the boy to join tourism industry. My cousin joined a good school offering a diploma in tourism. He found himself enjoying the course, to his pleasant surprise he did exceedingly well. After completion, he joined a reputed company at junior level. He performed well, within a few years he had established himself in the company. Today, he is doing exceedingly well, running a small tourism company and most importantly; enjoying himself.
How could a boy who was practically written off by all (including himself) ended up being successful in life. Credit goes to the angel spirit; the person who guided him to focus on his strengths: strong interpersonal skills, organizing skills and detail orientation.
Let’s now move on to corporate life. How often are we encouraged to focus on our strengths? How often do we encourage our team members to leverage their strengths? Most of the times, the strengths are considered as ‘given’ and focus quickly moves on to areas of improvement. Be it performance appraisal or talent review inputs or 360 degree feedback, the trend remains same. Oft heard statement is, “you are strong in these areas, keep it up. In order to be successful, create a development plan to overcome your these areas of improvement.”
If we focus too much on our weaknesses, we run the risk of being like the duck, average in everything. A leader who is essentially an introvert and shy can be asked to work on his weakness and become a people’s leader. But, an easier option would be to get him necessary support in this area and let him focus on his core strengths like execution.
I am not saying that one should completely ignore ‘weaknesses’. On the contrary, it’s good to be vigilant about a weakness that could potentially become a career derailer. However, taking strengths for granted; not sharpening them and leveraging from them would be like clipping the wings of bird ready to soar into the open skies!