Peter Drucker, the most significant management consultant over the last 100 years, and others have argued that the best way to improve yourself is to develop your strengths rather that spending all your time trying to improve the areas where you have weaknesses. The same can be said for businesses. Companies should jump at opportunities rather than always trying to solve problems. This issue is dealt with quite nicely in this blog by Dan Rockwell. I love the way he talks about frogs not flying. All the motivation and all the training classes in the world can’t make a frog fly. Perhaps you can train him to jump further or croak louder but he will never fly no matter how much effort is put forth.
Take a couple minutes and think about your last performance review. I bet you can’t even remember what your boss thought your strengths were, but I am sure you remember the weaknesses. Typically a plan of action is put in place to really try to work on those weaknesses but seldom is a plan designed to help you really cash in on your strengths. Perhaps the talent development folks have it backwards. In so many ways this hurts your long term development. Companies reward big time for outstanding efforts in certain areas and pay little attention to mediocrity.
Before I go further I hope it is obvious that there are some weaknesses that need to be brought up to an acceptable level if you are even to remain in the current job. We used to call these things derailers. These are things such as an inability to work with other people or not being able to control your temper that if not improved will kill your career. The key is to not spend tons of time on areas where you are rated merely satisfactory or where a slight improvement is needed. Most of the effort and development time should be spent rigorously developing your strengths.
Let me give a real world example of how this often gets messed up on a brand team. A woman, who is a real leader in the sales world with remarkable skills driving sales performance is put on a marketing team as a developmental assignment. At the same time a man who is a PharmD with no sales experience is already doing physician education work on the team and is becoming a real expert in that area. The temptation is to put the man into the role of developing materials for the sales team and allowing the sales professional to learn physician education. This is viewed as a developmental move for both, right? Experts would say that to really drive the business and to allow both to flourish you have the PharmD continue to drive the education and work on becoming world class there and allow the sales executive to drive the sales effort from inside the brand team. Both strengthen their real strengths and the business flourishes. Both will pick up enough from the other that they can be viewed as proficient in each other’s areas. Another quick example would be putting the least proficient “numbers” person in charge of the budgets so they can become more buttoned down in that area. What a disaster.
Talent development is a real skill that in so many ways is the lifeblood of an organization. The most obvious strategies are not always the best ones. Significant time and study should be spent on the ideal way to grow each individual. This work is both an art and a science. We need to learn from the masters, as for most leaders developing people is only a portion of their job. Perhaps a good place to start this thinking would be to take some time to read the works of Peter Drucker. I love one of his most famous lines. To succeed you need to be yourself, as the biggest mistake people make is to try to be someone they are not. Strengthen those strengths.