How do we get to a Strengths Assumption for development? Why is it that the Deficit Assumption seems to be the preferred course for development, and does it really lead to the outcomes that we seek?
Debunking The Deficit Assumption To Development
We often learn, at an early age, to work on eliminating weakness. The mantra may be: “Never mind that success, let’s talk about that failure.”
Why? Why are we talking about the F on the report card instead of celebrating the A’s? It is because we live in a world that is plagued with the Deficit Assumption. We are told that our greatest room for growth is in our ability to work hard, apply ourselves, and fix what we are not naturally good at. What a formidable task, focusing on what you suck at and working yourself to exhaustion to try and suck less…only to realize that while you have improved, your performance still is not excellent. This Deficit assumption is actually at the core of how we think of development in many organizations, and it starts from a young age. The most disheartening part about this is that people tend to HATE what they know they are not good at and have no talent for…how inspired and energized are you when you get to do something that you absolutely detest?
What was that subject in school that no matter how hard you tried, it just seemed that you couldn’t be excellent at it? You invested that precious resource of time to get better, but knew excellence was still never going to be in your cards?
I failed Algebra twice. I finally passed it with a C- the third time. Being a student that could not personally accept anything below a B, I cried more tears over math than most people cry over their dead dog. I cried tears of relief when I passed that God forsaken class. I HATED math with a passion. It didn’t matter how many times I studied my notes, saw a tutor, got help from the teacher, or asked my friends to show me just one more time…I still sucked at math. In the end, I just sucked less…I was still below average, but slightly better than previously. I don’t think I have celebrated mediocrity any other time in my life. That C- was excellent mediocrity for me…it was the limits of my capacity for excellence.
This toxicity spreads much deeper than merely an algebra grade. It moves us in the direction of never being enough. It moves us in a direction of self-doubt and inspires us to become excellent at being mediocre. The precious resource of time is finite and it is our choice whether to expend an exceptional amount of it on becoming average at something we are bad at instead of spending time becoming excellent at something we are good at.
The Strengths Assumption
If you focus on developing your weaknesses, you will never become your greatest self.
The CEO of Tough Mudder, Will Dean, is self-educated and has consistently joked: that school is about working on weaknesses, and life is about accepting them.
Let’s break the weakness fixation cycle. It is offensive to the many talents that are waiting to be cultivated into mastery level strengths, the ability to provide near perfect performance consistently. The same time investment in an area of talent yields a drastically different return on time invested than that same investment in weakness. The Strengths Assumption allows individuals to utilize their natural talents, what they are genetically inclined to be great at, and to ascend toward excellence. Under the Strengths Assumption, each person can develop their talents into strengths and manage around weaknesses. We manage around weaknesses by creating partnerships and owning not only where we excel, but where we unequivocally are exceptionally NOT excellent.
When we focus on weakness fixing it triggers the perspective of: “I am not enough.” It puts us in a mindset of, “I am a failure. I will be a failure until I get this thing figured out.” It robs our confidence and skill as we fail to recognize what we actually do bring, because we invest our time trying to be what we are not. We have successes, big and small, but when you end up fixated on the “you suck” sticky note, it makes us inefficient, disengaged, and allows us to pave the road to mediocrity and unfulfillment.
A Strengths Assumption allows us to realize two key things that Brene Brown reminds us:
- I am enough
- I am imperfect
The Strengths Assumption: Shining Bright Like A Diamond!
When we embrace the Strengths Assumption to development, it paves the way to be like a turtle: comfortable in our own shell. It not only gives us individually the opportunity to shine within our respective zone of genius, it gives others the opportunity to shine as well. By owning our talents and our imperfections, we can clearly articulate areas not only where we can contribute, but also where others can make an impact.
One of our favorite sayings at 34 Strong is the African proverb:
“If you want to go fast, go alone, If you want to go far, go with others!”
The Strengths Assumption to development allows us to go much further in allowing all to see not only where we shine, but where we aren’t quite as bright. It allows us to create partnerships around talents that are drastically different and complement each other remarkably well, arriving at the outcomes that we seek! It creates an environment where not only do individuals shine brightly, but teams do as well.
While, talking about a strengths approach is a great, on its own, it does nothing. We have seen some talk about the strengths approach and then practice weakness fixation…that will not yield excellence. When the Strengths Assumption is embraced and gets baked into the culture, not merely frosted on top where it can melt off, that is where massive change happens and the African proverb becomes a reality. That is where the team begins to align more and more around talent to shine brighter and brighter each day.
So as a leader, What assumption to development are you taking on? Are you actively working to embrace a Strengths Assumption? If maximizing the talent on your team is your goal, shouldn’t we start with a clear framework of what talent is and how it is uniquely cultivated? Always remember, you cannot aim high while focusing on weakness.
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Brittany Honore handles much of the behind the scenes administration for 34 Strong and is an integral part of coordinating, organizing and getting 34 Strong engagement programs together.
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