The goal of a leader is to pull out the greatness in their team members as they journey together towards a greater goal. Don Clifton once said:
“There is something you do better than ten thousand other people and we just need to find out what it is.”
If we put this one statement in the forefront of every leader’s mind, we could completely flip workplace culture worldwide. Leaders have this incredible privilege and responsibility to look for and develop the greatness within their team members.
The Deficit Assumption
Unfortunately, society seems obsessed with deficits. Individuals and organizations alike hone in on what they do poorly. They throw boatloads of time, attention, and resources into trying to improve, even if minimally, their lesser talents or weaknesses. Striving to incrementally increase areas of deficit typically leads to frustration personally and disengagement professionally. In contrast, when we focus on our strengths, we have the potential to be really strong in a certain area. As Dr. Clifton said, maybe we could even be better than ten thousand others in that particular area of strength. A strengths-based approach to people development creates exponential increase, instead of incremental increase, both on the personal level, and throughout the organization.
Let’s take, for instance, a person who hones in on their ability to communicate to audiences. As they focus on their strength, they may discover that they have a unique way of engaging and moving their audience to take on new perspectives or unite around a vision. As they invest time, energy, and effort into their communication strength, they will undoubtedly see exponential increase in their skill level and influence.
Conversely, a deficit-focused person may highlight public speaking as a area of needed growth. They will pour time, energy and training into incrementally increasing their skill in this area and surely they will see some adequate results. However, they will never experience the exponential increase that comes when public speaking is an area of natural strength. Again, anyone can invest and develop any area of potential talent. We wager that investment in areas where you already feel strength, ease, and enthusiasm will produce advancement far beyond what is possible for weak areas you are trying to grow.
Investing the Right Areas
Recently I shared the aforementioned quote by Donald Clifton in a meeting. Afterwards a leader commented that it sounded like a bad motivational quote to say you could be better than a thousand others at something. I nodded and agreed it could come off sounding poorly if we don’t understand the point Clifton is driving home.
I asked him who is favorite professional athlete was and he named a wide receiver on a professional football team. “What level of energy, effort, investment do you think that person put into opportunity to be a professional wide receiver?” I asked. The gentleman responded saying, probably hundreds of thousands of hours. Yes and none of us would fault him for that level of investment either. It is both his passion and his talent. The outcome clearly demonstrates that he wisely invested in the right area of his life. The leader nods in agreement. Then I said, wouldn’t it be fair to say he’s probably better at least ten thousand others? Of course his answer was undoubtedly yes.
For some reason, outside of the sports and performing arts arenas, we lose sight of this. We don’t see it as a responsible use of our resources. It’s almost considered irresponsible, to invest more of your time and effort into your strengths. Therefore, we recommend, make the truly responsible choice, the truly wise decision and double down on your strengths. Yes, manage your weaknesses so they don’t limit you. However, invest with greater vigor into your areas of natural strength. Allow your talent and passion collide just as they did for the professional wide receiver. The truth is, within each one of us is the potential for human greatness.
When you are ready to create the workplace culture that you envisioned, where people are engaged, valued for being valuable and play to their Strengths, 34 Strong will be here to help you make that a reality.
Brandon Miller is the Co-Founder and CEO of 34 Strong Inc. and co-author of the book Play to Their Strengths (June 2019), a book written with his wife, Analyn Miller, on parenting our children from a strengths-based lens. Brandon’s top five strengths are: Maximizer, Achiever, Activator, Strategic, and Arranger.