It’s no secret that there’s a leadership problem in today’s workplace. In fact, only 36 percent of employee participants of Workplace Trends’ Global Workforce Leadership survey in February and March 2015 said leadership is a strength in their organization.
So how do we strengthen leadership? How do we develop the leadership skills that are lacking in the workplace? Some think we need to focus on improving weaknesses, while others take the strategy of developing strengths.
Which way is right? In actuality, neither approach to leadership development will work. Instead, leaders need to focus on developing their hidden strengths. But what does that mean, exactly?
Here’s a breakdown of why strengths and weaknesses won’t work, and the key to better leadership development:
Focusing on weaknesses is a dead end
Weaknesses are those things you just aren’t good at, and—here’s the hard part—that you probably will never be good at. And that’s OK. What’s not OK is when you put all your energy into turning your weaknesses into strengths. It’s a wasted effort, no matter how much you keep trying.
According to a study published in the Journal of Research in Personality in December 2015, persistence can be costly. Persistent participants weren’t willing to give up when they were failing, even at a cost.
If you keep trying to improve your weaknesses, you’re not going to become a better leader. Focusing on weaknesses only wastes valuable time and frustrates you in the process. Instead, give up the notion of improving natural weaknesses.
Focusing on strengths doesn’t challenge you
So if you shouldn’t focus on weaknesses, you should put all your energy into your strengths, right?
Well, not exactly.
Natural strengths are the abilities that come easy to you—it’s what you’re good at. And when you focus on your strengths, you feel great. You’re confident, you succeed, and you’re happy with the work you’re doing. But you’re not growing. If you focus only on what you’re already good at, how will you become a better leader?
The truth is that understanding your natural strengths is valuable in finding the right job and career path. But once you’re in that job, you need to develop your skills further—especially when it comes to leadership skills.
After all, a study conducted by Gallup found that just 18 percent of current managers have the natural talent required for the role. However, when professionals with a few natural traits needed for leadership—not all of them—underwent the right coaching and development, they became successful managers.
Hidden strengths are the sweet spot
So if weaknesses are frustrating and strengths stall your development, how do you improve your leadership skills? Your hidden strengths are the key.
Your hidden strengths are the skills and abilities that you don’t excel or fail in—they’re somewhere in the middle. These are the skills that will help you evolve throughout your career and make you a better leader. How?
Here are a few steps to harness your hidden strengths to improve your leadership skills:
1. Find your hidden strengths.
Before you can develop your hidden strengths, you need to identify what they are. What skills do you have that could use improvement? Where are you mediocre?
You should come up with a list of a bunch of different skills, so focus your list. Choose which leadership skills you want to develop based on your professional goals. Maybe you want to focus on disrupting the industry with creativity and innovation, or maybe you want to improve your listening and verbal communication skills to lead employees more effectively and build close knit teams.
Whatever your goals are, determine which hidden strengths will move you closer to success, and focus on them.
2. Practice, practice, practice.
Now that you know where to focus your energy, you can start developing your hidden strengths. You know that practice makes perfect, and that’s exactly what it takes to transform hidden strengths into your top skills. Unlike weaknesses, practicing your hidden strengths with intention will make a difference—your skills will improve.
Think about your hidden strengths in your workday—what can you do to practice in a normal day? Can you focus on actively listening to coworkers and employees? Can you write down your thoughts first to be a more effective communicator?
Practicing leadership skills will be difficult at first. It will require a deliberate, conscious effort. But over time, your hidden strengths will become second nature.
3. Keep learning.
Don’t stop once you’ve developed one hidden strength—always keep working to build up other skills. To be an effective leader, you need to constantly be striving to do better, to learn new things, and reach new goals.
Developing leadership skills isn’t something you do once. It’s a continuous process to improve as a professional.
What are your hidden strengths? How will you work on them to be a better leader?
For more insight on fostering leadership in your organization, see Why Workplace Leadership Is About To Get Its First Makeover In 100 Years.