Draw Out People's Strengths Instead of Fixing Weaknesses

Draw Out People's Strengths Instead of Fixing Weaknesses

- 24 Best Leadership Practices | Part 11 of 24 -

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Managing people is far more rewarding yet challenging than managing the numbers. For example, numbers don’t have emotions and don’t talk back. Thus, when the numbers don’t align leaders work on putting in what they feel was left out. People on the other hand are each unique with special talents. Many studies tell us that by our mid-teens there is a limit to how much we can change who we already are. Of course, life is a journey of continuous improvement but by our teens if we have taken on a square mold we’re likely never going be compatible in a circle mold. Unfortunately, many leaders forget this and focus so much on putting in what they feel was left out (i.e., constant focus on weaknesses) that employee morale quickly plummets, innovation stagnates, and growth stops. Instead, leaders must focus on drawing out what is already in each person. As Ben Carson notes, “one of the keys to leadership is recognizing that everybody has gifts and talents and a good leader will learn how to harness those gifts toward the same goal.”

Lead by Pulling Up Instead of Pushing Down
- Focus on Strengths not Weaknesses -

Leaders should focus on finding weaknesses in the business model not in its people. Accordingly, leaders must draw out the strengths of its people so in turn they can use their strengths to correct the weaknesses in the business.

As Booker T. Washington stated, “There are two ways of exerting one’s strength: one is pushing down, the other is pulling up.” Pushing down focuses on other's weaknesses by trying to put in what was left out. On the other hand, pulling up focuses on maximizing people’s strength by drawing out what is already left in. Pushing down produces followers while pulling up creates leaders. Leaders that only focus on fixing weakness will have a near impossible task of bringing out the best in their people. This can be likened to a bad relationship. Remember, people don’t leave companies – they leave managers so instead of having the hubris of trying to put in what was left out have the humility and strength to draw out the amazing talents already in each individual. Simply, leaders capitalize on who people already are rather than trying to fix who they aren't.

Leaders can either push down or pull up. Pushing down focuses on weakness by trying to put in what was left out. Pulling up focuses on maximizing people’s strength by drawing out what is already left in. Pushing down produces followers while pulling up creates leaders.

Ultimately, leaders should focus on finding weaknesses in the business model not on finding and criticizing weaknesses in others. Otherwise, great value destruction occurs. As Carl Jung, the eminent thinker and psychologist, stated: “Criticism has the power to do good when there is something that must be destroyed, dissolved or reduced, but [it is] capable only of harm when there is something to be built.” Accordingly, great leaders see spikes in talent and ensure people are in the appropriate position to best leverage their unique strengths. Just as you wouldn’t have a great football quarterback playing a defensive lineman role so too must leaders ensure they not only hire the right talent but also have the skill, patience, and willingness to ensure people are put in the best position for their skillset. As renowned philosopher Donald O. Clifton noted, “Each person's greatest room for growth is in the areas of his or her greatest strength…to avoid your strengths and to focus on your weaknesses isn't a sign of diligent humility. It is almost irresponsible.” As such, leaders can create other leaders not followers by unlocking other's unique potential via ensuring each individual is in the right role to capitalize on their strengths instead of attempting to correct their perceived weaknesses.

As a gardener focuses on drawing out the flower from the seed so too must leaders focus on drawing out the hidden talent in each person. By focusing on nurturing the seeds in the ground (people), the crops (profits) will automatically follow. 


To summarize, drawing out what is already in each individual instead of focusing on putting in what you feel was left out will unlock people's potential and create leaders not followers. In addition, employees will be inspired to not only meet but also exceed expectations because they are given the runway and resources to fully maximize their strengths. As Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric noted, “Think of yourself as a gardener, with a watering can in one hand and a can of fertilizer in the other. Occasionally you have to pull some weeds, but most of the time, you just nurture and tend. Then watch everything blossom.” As such, leaders that take care of their people by putting them in a place where they can grown and thrive will eventually see a great harvest of results. As a gardener focuses on drawing out the flower from the seed so too must leaders focus on drawing out the hidden talent in each and every person. Simply, focus on nurturing the seeds in the ground (i.e., people) and the crops (i.e., profits) will automatically follow. 

Read the other best leadership practices HERE.

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24 Best Leadership Practices
- Series Overview -

The following article is Part 11 of a 24 part series on leadership (See all 24 best leadership practices HERE). To summarize, leadership is everyone’s business. Moreover, leadership abilities are not some innate talent that some were either born with or not but rather is a highly learnable skill. As such, everyone has the potential to become a great leader as long as one embraces a mindset of continuous improvement. Simply, leadership is not so much about inherent gifts and raw talent but rather the emotional awareness, humility, and perseverance to understand that leadership is a lifelong journey that is never mastered. Indeed, aspiring leaders must acquire the endurance of a marathoner, the musculature of a sprinter, and the mental fortitude to embrace that there is never a finish line but rather an unending goal of continuous transformation.

Ultimately, the leadership journey is not about becoming someone else but instead is about becoming one's best self so that in turn one can help others become their best self. And, while there are many facets that go into successful leadership we have identified 24 best leadership practices all of which are grouped into one of three categories, namely (1) inspire, (2) empower, and (3) innovate (see all 24 practices HERE).

  1. INSPIRE: To inspire action, great leaders appeal to people's hearts more than their minds. Simply, visionary leaders plan with the mind, lead with the heart, and reflect with the soul.
  2. EMPOWER: Great leaders empower those they are leading while simultaneously creating a collaborative culture that promotes the notion that together we can accomplish anything as long as we don't care who gets the credit.
  3. INNOVATE: Visionary leaders embrace change and understand that the term "good enough" is used by the lazy to justify inaction. As such, great leaders disrupt themselves and their companies before others do it for them. 

Leadership is the greatest race one will ever run – one without a finish line but also one with an exponential ceiling for those that embrace change, growth, and learning. While the level of employee talent may determine the potential of an organization it is the leader that ultimately unlocks that potential and determines the success of both the organization and its people. Although no leader will be a master at each of the proposed 24 leadership practices, awareness is often the greatest agent for change and continuous improvement. As such, we hope the proposed practices will be of service to you in maximizing not only your leadership potential but also the potential of those around you.


Joshua Seedman is the founder and chairman of PNI Consulting, a management consulting firm that specializes in global transformations. He has over 20 years of operating and general management experience with expertise in organizational transformations, customer experience, employee engagement, digital transformations, sales & marketing, operational turnarounds, culture/change management, and high-stakes negotiations. His experience includes executive roles within F500 companies, top-tier consulting leadership (McKinsey & Company), over 10 years of global P&L ownership, and corporate lawyer (Davis Polk & Wardwell). He received his MBA from Kellogg School of Management and his Juris Doctor (cum laude) from Northwestern University School of Law.

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