Scott West is a midlevel sales executive at a Fortune 500 company. After nine years there, he was thriving – his numbers hit the roof, he was
What Skills Will Magnify Your Strengths?
well-admired, and he got consistently rave reviews. He applied for a promotion that would put in charge of a global product-alignment assignment, a perfect fit for his combination of skills and ambitions. He had a solid track record, he had made no career-limiting moves, and never had any kind of run-ins with the upper management. Despite, a colleague with less experience and expertise on the matter got the job. What went wrong?
As far as Scott could tell, nothing. His manager was happy with his work, and a recent performance review confirmed it. It seemed delivering strong results wasn’t the norm. The emphasis was on problem solving, strategic thinking, and inspiring team members to thrive.
Scott had lost that one opportunity. So, how could he think more strategically? How could he become more inspiring? What about problem solving?
Sometimes, it’s pretty easy to improve on one’s weakness; through linear development, one can develop strength over no time. This is particularly familiar to athletes. A novice, for example, will benefit from running a few times a week, gradually increasing endurance and muscle
memory. An experienced runner, on the other hand, won’t get faster merely by running longer distances. In order to reach to the next level, he’ll need to build up complementary skills through swimming, yoga, weight training, and more.
The same is with leadership competencies. In order to
get to the next level, one needs to delve deeper to hone complementary skills such as communication, interpersonal skills, and be more accessible to the coworkers.
In order to be a more effective leader, one needs to identify the strengths, decide on which one to focus on and which complementary skill to develop. The process is pretty simple. Leadership competencies correlate with positive business outcomes such as employee engagement, revenue, profitability and customer satisfaction. What you need to do is figure out which pairs would produce amplified results.
In a Harvard Business Review survey of over 30,000 leaders, it was found that some pairings reportedly resulted into higher scores on the overall leadership effectiveness. For example, building relationships and focusing on results are two reasonably strong skills. However, only 14 percent of leaders were able to reach the extraordinary level of leadership by honing one. While leaders performed well in both the categories, only 72 percent of leaders excelled in overall leadership effectiveness.
There is a stronger degree of correlation between the overall leadership effectiveness and the possible pairings of all leadership competencies. HBR discovered that each of the 16 pairs of associated behavior were highly correlated with the leadership skills. So, what skill will magnify your strength?
For instance, the main competencies are honesty and integrity. How would you improve a relative strength in this area? If a leader were particularly weak in ‘honesty,’ he or she would need various ways to improve: Behave
consistently, avoid saying certain things, and so on. However, a leader with high integrity is more likely to be doing these things.
HBR’S competency-companion research suggests that assertiveness when paired with honesty and integrity correlates most strongly leading to higher leadership effectiveness.
This doesn’t mean that assertiveness doesn’t make someone honest, and that integrity doesn’t lead to assertiveness.
To build skills, the technique is pretty much straightforward:
Identify the strengths Choose a strength to focus on Pick a complementary skill set to
enhance Develop it in a linear fashion.
Focusing on one’s strength is an innovative approach. Peter Drucker in The Effective Executive, wrote, “Unless…an executive looks for strength and works at making strength productive, he will only get the impact of what a man cannot do, of his lacks, his weaknesses, his impediments to performance and effectiveness. To staff from what there is not and to focus on weakness is wasteful—a misuse, if not abuse, of the human resource.”
Research shows how big a difference honing one’s skills can make. What’s distressing is that less than 15 percent of executives actually work on honing the skills. Perhaps, the problem lies in execution. Leaders need more than a path to enhance their strengths and fix their weaknesses. The best approach to it is by allowing people to use the linear approach they are more comfortable with.
Leaders often complain that they’re not better than their peers in the organizations. The real challenge, however, is not to replace these leaders with good ones, but to turn them into capable leaders, and help them develop outstanding strengths.