Focus on employees’ strengths over weaknesses for an empowered workforce.
Much is made of helping employees discover and correct their weaknesses. That approach has very limited utility. It often creates defeated, deflated employees unable to add much value to the organization. Read on to learn about another approach leaders can use to create higher levels of performance and productivity by leveraging strengths.
It is important to start by reviewing the significance of emotional intelligence. This is the ability to “motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustrations, to control impulse and delay gratification, to regulate one’s moods and keep distress from swamping the ability to think, to empathize, and to hope,” according to author Elizabeth D. Hutchinson. It is a critical factor for leaders who want to shift attention from deficits to strengths. It gives these leaders a deeper understanding of human interactions; and it helps them begin to focus their concerns on maximizing the human potential in the organization.
The four commonly accepted components of emotional intelligence are:
- Self-awareness, knowledge of who one is at the core. This includes knowing one’s strengths, values, and vulnerabilities.
- Self-management, which requires that one demonstrate self-control and the ability to regulate behavior so that it is appropriate.
- Social awareness, which enables one to understand that the business environment and the world are comprised of many different people with many different perspectives. Leaders demonstrating social awareness are able to develop comfort with the vast array of diversity present in the workforce.
- Social skill, the ability to move social awareness into action. This is the skill that enables leaders to engage the workforce by knowing, respecting, and encouraging employees to deliver their best performance. It gives leaders comfort with eliciting other voices and integrating those perspectives.
A strength, according to Tom Rath, author of Strengths Finder 2.0, is a combination of talent and investment. A talent is a natural way of thinking, behaving, or possibly feeling. An investment is demonstrated by the time invested in practice, skill development, and knowledge building. It is the combination of talent and investment that produces strengths.
By now you may be wondering what emotional intelligence has to do with focusing on strengths. The relationship to emotional intelligence is that one must be self-aware to identify one’s talents. At the same time, self-management enables one to develop a thoughtful plan for investing in those talents. Leaders interested in building strengths throughout the organization use their social awareness to begin noticing the talents in others. They understand that each employee brings a unique array of gifts and talents that can potentially benefit the organization. Once leaders have detected talents, they are able to use their social skill to guide employees to invest their gifts. This effort is a demonstration of a leader’s commitment to investing in the organization through skillful utilization of its human capital.
It is not enough for leaders to channel their emotional intelligence outward to develop strengths. They must turn it inward to discover and employ their own strengths. Modeling an approach that focuses on strengths is important. Employees may not be accustomed to this concept, so they will need credible role models. In watching organizations that successfully use a strengths-based model, I have noticed that when this approach becomes the norm for leaders it cascades throughout the organization.
There are three questions that guide the focus on developing strengths at the individual and organizational levels:
- What are my talents in any area of my life?
- What am I willing to do to explore those talents and build them?
- What are the strengths that I expect to emerge from the investment in exploring and building my talents?
These questions provide a clear, simple framework for creating a strengths focus. Rather than addressing deficits, they intentionally focus on the buried gold in each individual.
Leaders are demonstrating a concern for employees and the organization when they decide to focus on strengths. It enables them to build their organizational bench, begin the process of creating a pipeline, and maximize the performance of teams. It also enables them to demonstrate that they, too, are growing. This commitment to personal and professional development can only improve organizational health and effectiveness.
Joanne L. Smikle, PhD, has extensive experience consulting with aging services organizations interested in enhancing their effectiveness through developing leadership competence and strategic clarity. She is a respected authority on leadership and organization development. Read more of her work at smiklespeaks.com.