Make Strength Productive — And Weaknesses Irrelevant

Do fish have to climb trees? Of course not! So why are employ­ees reg­u­lar­ly asked to work on their weak­ness­es? It would make more sense for every­one to accept weak­ness­es, make them irrel­e­vant through appro­pri­ate orga­ni­za­tion and thus delib­er­ate­ly make strengths productive.

Every­one is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its abil­i­ty to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believ­ing that it is stu­pid. That’s a pop­u­lar say­ing that is often attrib­uted to Albert Ein­stein. Although there is no evi­dence for this, it fits very well with Ein­stein’s biog­ra­phy: He only began to speak at the age of three and although he was not bad at school, he was no child prodi­gy. His strengths remained undis­cov­ered for a long time, or at least were not used suf­fi­cient­ly. At the time of his ground­break­ing first pub­li­ca­tions in his annus mirabilis 1905, he was a 3rd class tech­ni­cal expert at the Swiss Patent Office. And that was actu­al­ly already a step up, because he pre­vi­ous­ly had to work as a pri­vate tutor after his appli­ca­tions for assis­tant posi­tions at the Swiss Poly­tech­nic and oth­er uni­ver­si­ties were rejected.

In his book “The Effec­tive Exec­u­tive” (Ama­zon Affil­i­ate Link), which is very worth read­ing again and again, Peter F. Druck­er ded­i­cates a whole chap­ter to the ques­tion of how to employ your­self and your employ­ees in the best pos­si­ble way. His basic assump­tion is that every­one has some indi­vid­ual strengths — and quite a num­ber of weak­ness­es. This is prob­a­bly in line with the expe­ri­ence we make every day as human beings, boss­es, employ­ees or parents. 

The idea that there are “well-round­ed” peo­ple, peo­ple who have only strengths and no weak­ness­es (…) is a pre­scrip­tion for medi­oc­rity if not for incom­pe­tence. Strong peo­ple always have strong weak­ness­es too.

Peter F. Druck­er, 1967. The Effec­tive Executive

But since our school days we have been focused on the deficits. In job inter­views we are then asked about our great­est weak­ness and in each annu­al appraisal inter­view we are asked where we still need to improve. All with the aim of mak­ing us as well-round­ed as pos­si­ble. How­ev­er, this almost inevitably caus­es strengths to with­er away, while weak­ness­es are devel­oped to an accept­able medi­oc­rity. This is nei­ther good for the peo­ple and their moti­va­tion, which is essen­tial­ly based on their self-real­iza­tion, nor is it good for the per­for­mance of the organization.

To make strength pro­duc­tive is the unique pur­pose of orga­ni­za­tion. It can­not, of course, over­come the weak­ness­es with which each of us is abun­dant­ly endowed. But it can make them irrelevant.

Peter F. Druck­er, 1967. The Effec­tive Executive

Lead­er­ship means to mak­ing strengths pro­duc­tive and weak­ness­es irrel­e­vant. And lead­er­ship always begins with self-lead­er­ship and thus with know­ing and accept­ing one­self in one’s unique nature, with the respec­tive strengths and weak­ness­es. It is about remain­ing true to one­self with­out con­stant­ly imi­tat­ing oth­er peo­ple or pur­su­ing an abstract and entire­ly per­fect ide­al image.

We are all born orig­i­nals – why is it so many of us die copies?

Edward Young

The recog­ni­tion of one’s own strengths is not some­thing that is laid in one’s cra­dle or falls into one’s lap, but is the result of sys­tem­at­ic reflec­tion. Effec­tive man­agers set them­selves goals and reg­u­lar­ly review their per­for­mance. Peter F. Druck­er rec­om­mends the so-called Feed­back Analy­sis: For every impor­tant deci­sion, expec­ta­tions and fears are writ­ten down and com­pared with the actu­al results after 9 to 12 months (see Peter F. Druck­er, Man­ag­ing One­self. Ama­zon Affil­i­ate Link). A sim­ple but effec­tive method to sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly iden­ti­fy your own strengths.

Most peo­ple think they know what they’re good at. They are usu­al­ly wrong. More often, peo­ple know what they’re not good at — and even then more peo­ple are wrong than right.

Peter F. Drucker

A good way to explore one’s own strengths can be per­son­al­i­ty tests (despite all jus­ti­fied crit­i­cism) like this very nice one from 16Personalities. I at least rec­og­nized myself well in my result Logi­cian / INTP‑T (even apart from the Bar­num effect). I have under­stood that I am always attract­ed by the new. At least until I have basi­cal­ly under­stood it and tried it out to some degree. After­wards, when it comes to imple­ment­ing, rolling out and indus­tri­al­iz­ing it, my moti­va­tion decreas­es noticeably.

That’s why I’ve been writ­ing short blog arti­cles for almost 10 years and hard­ly any books and if books like the Man­i­festo for Human(e) Lead­er­ship, then books that con­sist of blog arti­cles. That’s why my jour­ney through life is not a straight­for­ward career path. And that is why I find the con­cept of Wu Wei much more appeal­ing than the exer­cise of set­ting life goals by writ­ing my own eulo­gy and work­ing towards them.

The difference between pioneers, settlers and town planners according to Simon Wardley
The dif­fer­ence between pio­neers, set­tlers and town plan­ners accord­ing to Simon Ward­ley.

In the ter­mi­nol­o­gy of Simon Ward­ley, I’m prob­a­bly more of a pio­neer than a set­tler or town plan­ner. And that’s a good thing. At least as long as you are able to use these strengths and there are oth­ers that make up for my weak­ness­es as a set­tler or town plan­ner. But that’s exact­ly what orga­ni­za­tions (or net­works) exist for. And some­times you are lucky and get a true leader as boss, who wants to make strengths pro­duc­tive and unleash the human poten­tial.

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By Marcus Raitner

Hi, I'm Marcus. I'm convinced that elephants can dance. Therefore, I accompany organizations on their way towards a more agile way of working. Since 2010 I regularly write about leadership, digitization, new work, agility, and much more in this blog. More about me.

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