A place to discuss the principles of High Performance Organizations and interact with other professionals who have been successful in implementing HPO principles, or are seeking to, in their organizations
The Enduring Impact of Focusing on Strengths
November 28, 2012 at 1:37 pm #173781
From a leadership blog by Jim Clemmer …
Years ago a 7th grade teacher gave her class an up close and personal exercise in finding and building on strengths. She began by circulating sheets of paper that had only the name of each student at the top of each blank page. Students were asked to identify what they felt was the greatest strength of that student or build on a strength that someone else had already noted.
Once each paper was circulated around the entire classroom and every student added their feedback the completed sheet with their name on it was given to each student. Students studied their feedback and then summarized what they’d been told in a brief verbal report to the rest of the class. The increase in positivity, energy levels, engagement, cooperation, and grades was immediate and lasting.
Ten years later one of the students in that class was killed in military action during his time in the marines. The young marine’s body was flown home to his family for burial. During the funeral one of the pall bearers recognized his 7th grade teacher and talked with her about the enduring impact of her strength building exercise. The young marine’s parents overheard the conversation and joined in. “Thank you so much for the big difference you made to Ryan’s school life,” the deceased young marine’s mother said to the teacher as she wiped a tear from her eye. “He was the smallest kid in grade seven and was getting bullied by bigger kids. His self-esteem was slipping and he was becoming more withdrawn. That exercise changed his perspective and was a big part of turning him around. He carried that sheet of paper everywhere. It was tattered, torn, and falling apart in the wallet they just returned to us with his things earlier this week.”
- What if the teacher had asked the kids to write down weaknesses and improvement suggestions?
- Why do most performance reviews focus on fixing weaknesses rather than leveraging strengths?
- What’s the lingering effect on motivation to improve and performance?
November 28, 2012 at 3:01 pm #173789
1. If the teacher had asked the students to rate their peers’ weaknesses and suggestions for improvement she would have destroyed the collaborative part of her class and created suspicion (Who said I was dumb, mean, shy, smelled bad?), accusations and eventually put all the students at each others’ throats.
2. Because no one taught supervisors or anyone else that we soar on our strengths and wallow in our weeknesses. For example if you think strategically and systemically you may be a poor detail manager. What you should do is focus on jobs requiring your strengths and move away from those based on your weaknesses. Instead managers typically instruct employees to develop in their weak areas.
3. Instead of bulding super troopers in our fields of excellence we are all at 50% in everything. I don’t know about you but I don’t let the guy who snakes out my toilet fill my teeth just because he’s used to working in small spaces. I my pesonal life I delegate to specialists trained to excel in in their field. So should leadership!
November 28, 2012 at 7:07 pm #173787
That’s a great story!
I agree with Carol – if the teacher had asked students to list weaknesses, I think the resulting distrust, anger, upset feelings, etc. would have contributed to a very bad classroom environment.
Perhaps many performance reviews focus on fixing weaknesses because it’s the more obvious route to better performance. If your position requires you to do a lot of video editing and you’re terrible at it, being good at writing doesn’t help you out much. I think it sometimes takes more effort to see how strengths can be leveraged, given the flexibility/inflexibility of job duties and relationship that exists between the employee and the person doing the performance review.
November 28, 2012 at 9:58 pm #173785
William H. Devereaux, IIIParticipant
I liked this story so much… I joined your group!!! This is what the world needs more of!!
November 29, 2012 at 5:17 pm #173783
Really nice post, Sam.
We just went through the StrengthsFinder exercise as a team. It was very helpful to better understand our respective strengths and how we fit together – overlaps, complementarities, etc. It was also great to see how our strengths can bump up against each other to cause communication challenges…and how to turn that into a net positive.
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