Organizational leaders need to spend as much time addressing their weaknesses as showcasing their strengths.
According to more than a half-dozen influential managerial thinkers and consultants, finding managers who can fix mistakes may be more important than identifying people who can deal from strength.
In.The Perils of Accentuating the Positive (Hogan Press, 2009), edited by Robert B. Kaiser, arguements are made against the “strength-based development” theory that fixing mistakes is a sign of weakness.
In fact, the contributors say, focusing solely on strength-based leadership may handicap a company’s intent on finding those executives that can successfully steer the company’s future.
The strength-based leadership theory maintains that the only way for executives to achieve top performance is by building on strengths. The book fleshes out an opposing point of view: the hidden dangers easily overlooked when executives don’t address their shortcomings.
For example, when an entrepreneurial appetite for risk isn't balanced by due diligence and caution, the entrepreneur's strength can become an organizational liability. Ignoring weaknesses can end a career and destroy an organization, according to the book.
“Research shows that managerial derailment is more often caused by unattended weaknesses,” Kaiser says. “Fads and fashions swing like a pendulum, but best practice is always much more balanced than the hype.”
Kaiser believes the popular version of the strengths message was widely adopted during the early years of this decade, preceding the current economic crisis, because it suited the mood of the day. In a recent Financial Times article, Kaiser wrote, “It is no surprise that the strengths-based approach gained its popularity amid the self-serving decadence and delusional optimism that has spun the global economy out of control.”
Robert B. Kaiser is the author or coauthor of three previous books, including The Versatile Leader, and more than 100 articles. His work has been published in the Harvard Business Review and the MIT Sloan Management Review.