• Prof. Dr. Utho Creusen

Why we always focus on fixing our weaknesses - and why this is a mistake

We are all very good at eliminating our weaknesses. Why is that?

We have it in our genes and learn not to make mistakes during our childhood and adolescent socialization.

We have learned to avoid mistakes

One of our basic genetic predispositions is to perceive dangers and learn how to avoid them. Therefore, negative experiences are imprinted deeper and longer in our memory. In the early days of mankind, mistakes in the assessment of dangers were often fatal and over time led to „selection of the cautious“. Those who eliminated their weaknesses survived.

In addition, our early childhood imprint often consists of the many tips on what not to do and what to avoid as a child. This principle is reinforced and formalized in the school system. Obvious weaknesses are eliminated. We focus on those school subjects in which we have to "stay over" and need "tutoring". We focus on where we underperform. But compensating weaknesses leads average achievement. It does not stimulate excellent achievement. Recent research shows that by compensating for a weakness I achieve improvements, but never top performance, only average performance.

Weaknesses are compensated and strengths are largely taken for granted. Now and then this has the fatal consequence that exceptional talents are not recognized and even worse are considered disruptions of the school system. The consequences for individual performance and motivation are seriously negative. Average performance is less stimulating than extraordinary performance. But only in the areas of individual greatest strengths there is potential for extraordinary performance. These are systematically not stimulated nor reinforced.

To avoid misunderstandings:

We are not talking about reproducible outcomes acquired by learning, but about intuitively available talents. Stimulating these is a much more rewarding compared to compensating weaknesses.

But here we come up against a serious problem. Most people don't recognize their intuitive talents. We rarely get hints from the outside about our talents nor are we stimulated to strengthening them and therefore we are mainly occupied with avoiding our weaknesses and mistakes. If we do not recognize our strengths, we usually cannot express them in language terms. However, the verbalization of our strengths is the prerequisite for systematically using strengths. The learning process consists of identification, formulation and use. For talents to become strengths, they must be used again and again. This form of training and practice leads to excellence and top performance. But we usually have too little time for this, as we are busy compensating for our weaknesses.

These insights come from Positive Psychology, a branch of psychology that has been celebrating great and increasingly important successes for about 30 years. The protagonists of this movement, such as Martin Seligman, Daniel Kahnemann, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, have not only presented remarkable scientific research results, but have achieved lasting effects in many areas of society. For example, the psychologist Daniel Kahnemann was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics for his analysis and reinterpretation of the effects of intuitive thinking on decision-making behavior. Furthermore, the psychologist Marcus Buckingham exposed three myths to which we are subject in connection with the development of individual strengths.

Myth 1: Everything can be learned

Firstly, he proved that personality changes very little in relation to a person's so-called basic talents in the course of his life. Rather, talents are primarily trained in the so-called selectional phase (3rd to 15th year of life), are largely reinforced until around 20 years of age and after that can only be strengthened if they are using intensively the talents. Once trained, basic talents are never lost. However, they can only be used for peak performance if they are rehearsed over and over again. Conversely, basic talents that have not been developed at the age of about 20 years cannot be developed in such a way that extraordinary performances are possible in the remainder of one's life. A person who at the age of 20 lacks talents of emotional intelligence will not be able to significantly increase his emotional intelligence in the following years of his life. Conversely, a person who identifies and systematically develops his analytical and strategic talents at the age of 20 can achieve outstanding scientific achievements.

Myth 2: My weaknesses offer the greatest potential for growth

The second myth that Marcus Buckingham explored is the idea that the greatest potential for growth lies in the greatest weaknesses. This is where Pareto sends his regards. He postulated the principle that the last 20% of a perfect performance requires the highest energy input. We therefore believe that we can achieve extraordinary performance improvements in the area of our weaknesses. However, the so-called Pareto principle does not apply to the development of human potential. Rather, many studies indicate that people who recognize their talents and systematically develop them into strengths through practice are capable of incredible performance.

Myth 3: You have to be good in all areas

A third myth demands that we must be generally good at many things in order to be successful in life. Consequently, we acquire “half-knowledge” in many things and only rarely live out our talents and excel at one thing. Especially modern societies and organizations with flat hierarchies, openness and dynamic development need the combination of different outstanding talents. Diversity is the order of the day. In team sports, this insight has long been accepted. I have to discover my talents and use them optimally in my position and in my role. Conversely, I don't have to be good in all positions on the pitch. Precisely because no team member has to be able to do everything, the team as a whole can achieve everything. Modern forms of organization, such as the Holacracy, follow this principle.

Therefore, strength orientation is a formative and functional principle for our individual and organizational success. Modern organizations that follow a dynamic principle such as the HOLACRACY or VIBRANT ORGANISATIONS are based on strength orientation. Examples would be companies like: HeidelbergCement, Zürcher Kantonalbank, Storck, OBI, MediaMarkt.

Forget your weaknesses! Strengthen your strengths!

Therefore, organization developers advise: "Forget your weaknesses. Strengthen your strengths." This goes contrary to current practice. Numerous personnel development programs are still exclusively aimed at eliminating weaknesses.

However, the realization is increasingly gaining ground that this way of thinking is outdated. That is why we introduce VIBRANT LEADERSHIP.

(This article was translated from German using AI)

Do you want to know more? Here are our literature tips

  • Entdecken Sie Ihre Stärken jetzt! Das Gallup-Prinzip für individuelle Entwicklung und erfolgreiche Führung; Marcus Buckingham, 2007. Link

  • Positive Psychologie in der Führung; Utho Creusen et al., 2014. Link

  • Positive Leadership; Utho Creusen et al.

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