Focus on Strengths or Weaknesses?

Which is it going to be for you?

The power of strengths is the dawning of whole new perspectives in the way that we’re looking at education and personal growth.

The look at strengths inside of you will be the dawning of whole new perspectives. It’s causing whole new perspectives in the way we go about what we’ve called mental health and especially the way in which we’re going about coaching.

One of these perspectives is what we know about the development of “genius.”

We haven’t paid a lot of attention to the growth of genius. Genius comes from encouraging and growing a strength; it never comes from correcting a weakness or from creating a “balanced” person.

We are a culture who loves balanced people, whatever balanced people are, and really all that being a balanced person means. It is what Tom Rath, in his book Vital Friends, calls “rounding,” and it is a way of making gifted people seem “less than” so they are not so threatening.

That means if we’re going to go making you a balanced person, what we’re going to do is look at your weaknesses, and shore up your weaknesses so they’re more in balance with your strengths.

What we teach you to do is just the opposite of that, and that is find your strengths, go with your strengths, and use your strengths to manage the weaknesses, and don’t ever worry about being a “well balanced” person.

Most people are simply ignorant of what their real strengths are.

Part of the reason we’re just beginning to get comfortable with them is because we have a lifetime of being, at least part of the time, in a DownSpiral, and a lifetime of playing to our weaknesses.

We have little or no access to strengths in a DownSpiral, and the deeper down the spiral we go, the lesser is the felt sense of these strengths.

All of us have a lifetime of being told in some way to correct our weaknesses, be a more well-rounded person, be a more balanced person.

We are taught this from the moment we enter the educational system.

The message is: learn to balance your weaknesses, or even obliterate them, so you can be “well rounded” and “balanced.” Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Suppose we decided that in our schools, we’re just going to pay attention to what students really do well first.

That what we’re going to discover and nurture is everything students do really well, not the things they do not do well, so we can compensate for those things and “fix” them.

What if that just happened every day? What if every day was simply another day for you to grasp your strengths and live in them?

What if we gave our kids, partners, spouses, co-workers, everyone in our world, this message: here’s another day for you to use your strengths . . . this is what they are, grow them and develop them. Now go try this and see how you succeed using what you are naturally good at doing.

Yes, we want you to go use and try what you are good at.

That’s very hard to get people to do. It’s a challenge to get people to apply that to their life. But not to do so is one of our greatest threats, both personally and to society at large.

© Dr. William K. Larkin




About the author

Dr. William K. Larkin
  • Dwayne Paro

    The concept of “balance” is always such a misnomer when it comes to living an empowering and fulfilling life. It reminds me of the same issue we have with raising our children to “get an education and find a good job”. What does all that mean? Its means we are producing a future generation that is unhappy with various aspects of who they naturally are and are chasing an ambition. Rather than focusing on what are your strengths and how can those strengths be used to serve a greater purpose, something larger than yourself, something that provides almost automatic feelings of being content and thriving in the UpSpiral. I know from personal experience that chasing an ambition and trying to compensate for my weaknesses has only created a lack of confidence and an anti climatic feeling after achieving the ambition. When I am happiest and most in my zone is when I’m using my strengths to serve a higher purpose. This gives me such a high level of energy and drive that staying in an UpSpiral and having a solid emotional handle on where I’m at is almost a natural state. As I’m raising my teenage Son I’m intentionally discussing these concepts and helping him to understand the pitfalls of worrying about and trying to compensate for his weaknesses or figure out what that ambition is to chase. I do this by being vulnerable and transparent on my own experiences. I’m seeing very positive results in his approach to how he handles his decisions and overall well being. He has brought to my attention on numerous occasions how fellow students have asked him, why do you smile so much? Of which he found off and unsure of what the answer would be as it’s a natural way of being for him. I told him for ease of an answer, ask them Why Not?

  • Dr. gloria wright

    When I taught gifted English I had some uncanny sense of my student’s strengths. They didn’t have the profiles to articulate them, but somehow I played to them. I remember a gifted student’s parent came for a conference when I pantomimed the spelling words (which I said I would do). “Your son is a closet intellect or sleeper. He’s plenty bright, but doesn’t have the motivation to work up to his potential. You can take him out of my class, but I won’t recommend it.”
    He stayed. We soon had a creative assignment from any of the quotes from Alice In Wonderland. This student wrote and played a song. He got a standing ovation from the class. He was a model student after that.
    Another class exercise was on themes written. The papers were returned with the number of points you could gain if you “fixed” the parts where the points were marked. I put them into small study groups to figure out what needed to be changed. The students thrived. After going to college I got numerous notes about how they were better in their English classes and advanced in their “editing” skills.

    In working with executives, I gave workshops on how to manage people from their strengths. It had a profound effect on the culture in the company. People were seeking partners for their weaknesses and focusing on using their strengths.
    I think this short piece is worthy of repeating, “The Power of Affirmation”: “To have affirmation as our basic attitude and practice creates a shift in the way we look at life, at others, and at ourselves. It invites us to look at what is right rather than wrong, and focus on what is to be celebrated, rather than that which needs to be fixed. The result is as much growth and change, if not more so, than under any system of criticism.
    Affirmation has a strong positive effect on us; we become energized, relaxed and responsive. It increases our self-esteem and decreases our insecurity. It encourages truthfulness rather than denial and makes us more open.
    Because so much of our self-image is based on the response of others to who we are, we are hungry for feedback. We need to be told what we are doing right, what others appreciate in us, what gifts they see. We can never get enough of it and from this we learn that we can never give too much to others. To practice affirmation is to give and receive grace.” Adapted from: Phil Porter & Cynthia Henry

  • Kathy Lee

    Looking at personal challenges through the lens of strengths is a new concept for me and one that opens up new possibilities. This week I tried something new with a couple of my coachees and asked them what their strengths were. One of them paused, as if quite surprised and said he hasn’t ever thought about his strengths. How would your relationships be impacted if you applied your strengths to them? how would your input in meetings be improved if you contributed through your strengths and how would you feel about yourself if you consciously applied your strengths? I’m asking myself the same questions and am learning that I would probably be operating from my best self if I did this more regularly. My two friends, with whom I’m sharing everything I’m learning, also took the VIA test and we’ve been discussing our strengths all week. All three of us had challenges and we asked each other which strength or which combination of strengths would especially help us meet our challenges. It is so helpful to have partners in this work; forming a support group with others who are interested in learning about UpSpirial tools, the Emotional Gym, and strengths has been a supplemental support team for me. I also used the Four R’s with one client who said she had five opportunities that same day to re-frame and re-label situations to see situations in new ways that helped her address each situation more effectively.

Copyright © 2015 The Applied Neuroscience Institute