Are you focusing on your team’s weaknesses instead of their strengths? This is a recipe for failure.

Cast your mind back to your school days. Did you ever get a low grade in a test and took that as a sign you weren’t smart enough? That’s the issue with grades – they’re not a holistic indicator of our overall intelligence. If one student gets 100% in a maths test while another gets 40%, is there any guarantee that the student with the higher grade will be more successful later in life? No. Perhaps the student that received 40% in this maths test actually wants to be a professional football player, or an artist, or an author. The fact that they’re not good at maths may not be the deciding factor for their future career. 

 So, why am I, a CEO who’s been out of school for decades, still talking about school? Because as leaders, it’s crucial that we don’t make the mistake of predominantly focusing on our employees’ weaknesses and shortcomings. All too often, people’s school careers influence whether they see themselves as intelligent or unintelligent. As leaders, we need to break this habit and create a culture that uses our team’s strengths to empower them.

 If someone isn’t performing well in one area, that doesn’t mean they’re a poor worker. You need to utilise your employees’ strengths and nurture their capabilities so that your team can grow even stronger. Whether it’s a student getting a low maths grade or a salesperson who isn’t keen on making calls, being a poor performer in one area doesn’t mean you’re not amazing at something else. As I’ve previously discussed in my article about bringing your life mottos into the workplace, “if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” The same principle applies in the workplace.

 How to play to your team’s strengths

Let’s go back to the salesperson example. I once had a group of salespeople that had an excellent technical understanding of our products. Their comprehensive technical knowledge made them a strong asset to our team because they could provide practical, expert assistance to both their peers and our customers about Pierlite products. However, they became a lot more interested in the technical side of things than actually liaising with customers and talking to stakeholders. So, instead of focusing on their weaknesses in sales, I celebrated their technical strengths and moved them into technical roles instead of sales. Unsurprisingly, they excelled in their technical roles and became much more engaged in their work because they could play to their strengths. 

An article from Yale cites that while employees have traditionally focused on correcting their weaknesses to become more successful, recent research shows that leaders, teams, and individuals who focus on their strengths are more likely to be successful than if they were to focus on improving their weaknesses. Supporting this is research from Gallup, which found that teams experience 17% higher productivity and 21% higher profitability when they focus on strength development instead of weakness improvement. The study also revealed that employees felt more confident, productive, and self-aware in an organisation that focused on their strengths, as well as being up to 23% more engaged at work. If you have a company culture that predominantly focuses on negative feedback, there’s a good chance that you’re preventing your team from reaching their full potential.

Think about the players in a sports team. Each player has their own set of strengths that the team utilises to help them collectively succeed. If you had a player who was a record-breaking goalkeeper, why would you force them to play a different position if they didn’t want to? You wouldn’t constantly highlight that the goalkeeper is a weak striker or midfielder when they don’t play those positions. So, why would you do this in the workplace? Whether it’s on the sports field or in the office, tearing down someone for their weaknesses instead of capitalising on their strengths can be damaging to your team. It will also stunt your team’s progress as improving someone’s weaknesses will take much longer than building upon their strengths.

Investing in both strengths and weaknesses

In saying all this, I’m not advocating that we should just ignore our team’s weaknesses. As leaders, it’s our job to identify the gaps and shortcomings in our team’s abilities and address these weaknesses with the goal of empowerment, not beratement. What I’m saying is, it’s essential that leaders do not fall into the trap of predominantly focusing on their employees’ weaknesses without celebrating and utilising their employees’ strengths.

At Pierlite, we invest in a phenomenal amount of training opportunities for our employees. Most of our team agrees that Pierlite offers the most training and development opportunities they’ve experienced in their careers. Why? Because actively investing in growth and development is endlessly more effective than simply calling out your team’s weaknesses and expecting them to manage criticisms on their own.

Importantly, our training and development opportunities are not just for improving on our team’s weaknesses. We also encourage employees to take training courses on areas they already excel at! After all, you can never have learned too much or be too good at what you do. Our training courses and engagement meetings are offered to everyone, regardless of their performance level. The participants of our leadership shadow programs are based on a first-in, first served process to ensure the selection process is fair and unbiased, further reinforcing that anyone has the opportunity to continue developing.

Offering growth and development to our highest performing employees boosts their engagement, which results in increased productivity and company loyalty. I believe it is critical that businesses focus on their high performers just as much as their medium to low performers. Many workplaces mainly focus on bringing their low performers up to scratch, however, it is essential to provide high performers with the same energy and attention. Otherwise, your high performers may leave your company for one that will offer them more attention and opportunities.

Leadership IQ study that assessed data from 207 organisations discovered that in 42% of those organisations, high performers were less engaged than the company’s low performers. It was also revealed that the efforts of high performers largely go unrecognised where low performers were the ones receiving more positive reinforcement than the rest of the company. This highlights the fact that companies are putting themselves at risk by primarily focusing on low performers and forgetting to celebrate and utilise the strengths of their high performers.

In business, leaders often spend more time on performance management discussions and negative feedback, however, we need to be putting the same amount of energy into having discussions about our team’s wins and recognising their strengths. I always try to call at least five employees a day to celebrate their achievements with them, remind them of their value in the company, and discuss how important their work is. At Pierlite, we do not define people’s benchmarks based on their weaknesses, but their strengths.

Growing from mistakes

By building upon our team members’ strengths and not just their weaknesses, the Pierlite team is rewarded with more success, productivity, and engagement than ever. I never get angry or upset when a team member makes a mistake. There was one instance where someone else’s mistake cost us a large sum of money, and even then, there was no tension or anger between us. I focused on resolving the mistake, letting the team rest, and then discussing it with them in a way that helped us all learn and grow from the mistake.

Getting mad at your team for their weaknesses and mistakes can create a counterproductive workplace that damages your business. According to neuroscience research cited by Harvard Business Review, our brain triggers a “no go” signal when we anticipate something negative. In other words, if your team anticipates that their mistakes will be met with anger and punishment, they are more likely to freeze and avoid being transparent and open about their mistake, which can result in the issue worsening.

An employee that never fails has a poor adversity quotient (AQ), which means they are likely to struggle in the face of difficulty. On the other hand, an employee that has bounced back from multiple mistakes and weaknesses is more likely to have a high AQ and will be equipped to effectively manage future hardships, making them a valuable company asset.

My executive coach once gave me a task where I had to list 10 of my strengths. While it was easier said than done, it challenged me to look inward and identify my strengths to empower me to continue building on my assets and recognise the value I can bring to the team. So, I challenge you to do the same in the comments – tell me, what are some of your strengths? Or, if you’d prefer, tag a friend or co-worker and list a few of their strengths! This way, we can empower ourselves and each other to maximise our success based on our strengths.