My clients are amazing. They can very quickly tell me what is wrong with them. Without one empowerment question, they will very thoroughly come up with a faults inventory a mile long. Ask them about their strengths, however, and that is when the resistance usually arises. Most clients hesitate. Some even get a little miffed when strengths are discussed. When challenged with the assignment of writing out 50 of his strengths, a client of mine reminded me that he had hired me to help him succeed by working on his weaknesses, not his strengths.
Why the resistance to looking at strengths? Some of us believe that we don’t have the life of our dreams because of the failures created by our weaknesses. The thought is, “If I could only overcome my flaws, then I would be successful.” So looking long and hard at the weaknesses, in order to change, makes sense. And it can be useful.
But I have also found looking at strengths can create success. How? Sometimes you can perfect an already existing strength in one area so much that it compensates for a weakness in another. One of the greatest examples I can think of is below.
Tiger Woods, considered by many to be one of the greatest golfers of his time, acknowledges sand traps are definitely his weakness. He knows his strength lies in long drives and putting. So then one would think he and coach Butch Harmon would work on his sand saves, right? Actually, they say they work on perfecting Tiger’s strength of driving and putting. Does it work? One of Tiger Woods biggest wins was played on the St. Andrew’s course, known for its extreme amount of sand traps. He was the only golfer who didn’t land in any of the dreaded sand traps. Due to perfecting his accuracy of driving, he didn’t have to worry about his weakness of sand saves because he kept the ball on the course. He didn’t have to execute any sand saves!
Sometimes when focusing on a weakness, a fear of not being able to conquer it can be created and become so extreme that it interferes with the ability to function. I have seen in clients (and myself) this fear become a far worse obstacle towards succeeding than the original weakness. I think one of the biggest tragedies is when someone becomes so discouraged, due to not being able to overcome a weakness, they just give up.
As a coach, my experience has been that change happens so much easier (and usually quicker) when a client has a positive attitude and maintains good self-esteem. A technique I sometimes use with clients stuck in trying to solve a problem or figure something out is to have them write down five of their strengths. Then we look at ways each strength might solve their current problem. The idea here is not to find the exact, perfect solution from just these five strengths (though sometimes we do!) but rather to switch their focus from a negative, “I can’t solve this problem” thinking to a positive, solution based one. Sometimes, by creating good self-esteem and a positive attitude, weaknesses can be eliminated. Take a person who watches too much TV in order to cope with his low self-esteem. If the cause of the low self-esteem is removed by focusing on his strengths, the outcome might be that he watches less TV.
So does focusing on your strengths actually work? Find out for yourself. Perhaps the next time you encounter something you want to change, try focusing on your strengths rather than trying to correct your weaknesses.
Some helpful hints:
- Acknowledge and celebrate all of your successes, no matter how small you think they are.
- When thoughts of weakness surface (and they will) simply acknowledge them and then try to think of a positive trait you possess. What is one of your strengths that might counter the weakness?
- If you are having difficulties seeing your strengths, ask a good friend to help you. Acknowledge the strengths they see in you to yourself and think of ways that you have succeeded because of that strength.