Play to Your Strengths

Uncovering Weaknesses

The basic idea behind the strengths theory-that it's better to concentrate on strengths than to develop weaknesses-does have limits. Communication, reliability, the ability to get along with others and some other talents are so important to so many kinds of work that almost everybody needs to become as skilled as possible in those things.

"Anything to do with morals or ethics, there is a baseline requirement," says Marcus Buckingham. However, he continues, if you know you or another person is weak in, say, empathy, the empathy-impaired individual can be paired with someone who empathizes well, limiting the damage caused by the blind spot. "With self-awareness," he maintains, "anything is possible."

You can also mess up using strengths theory. It's only too possible to misdiagnose strengths and put people in jobs they aren't suited for. "A second and perhaps most pressing risk is that you'll forget that the point of management is always the same thing-to cultivate performance," cautions Buckingham. "The point isn't to become so absorbed in the strengths of your people that you forget to get the job done."

A Strong Future?

Some experts predict significant effects on businesses of all sizes due to the radical ideas behind the strengths theory. "If it spreads broadly, it could have a huge impact because it turns much of management and organizational development on its head," observes King. "It is much more humane. It is much more positive. It is not fear- or punishment-based. And companies that have implemented it have reduced turnover, increased productivity and reduced cost."

Businesses spend so much time training people to repair their weaknesses, with such disappointing results, that the idea of achieving greatness by not trying to do everything well is a truly big one, even if it only revolutionizes training. But, more important than that, entrepreneurs such as Wise hope that catering to their employees' and their companies' strengths as well as their own will make their work both more productive and more enjoyable at little cost.

"It's well worth it," Wise says. "No one brings everything to the table. This really helps us cut to the chase [and see] how an applicant or team member is wired."

Mark Henricks is an Austin, Texas, writer who specializes in business topics and has written for Entrepreneur for 11 years

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This article was originally published in the May 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Play to Your Strengths.

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