Focusing solely on strengths is inherently elitist, expensive and wasteful. Research informs us that all organizations, strong or weak, have big gaps in talent. Everyone needs to be well-rounded and capable of working well with other people. When individuals are allowed to follow their strengths with no attention to improving weaknesses, these talent gaps grow wider. Business becomes less productive because other executives have to “pick up the slack” left by the “top performers” who are permitted to flex their strengths. Inevitably, somebody has to do the hard work!

The Gallup Organization has given us much, but there is chasm in their strengths-based school of thought, now promoted by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie in their latest title, Strengths-based Leadership.

We maintain that strengths-based leadership is a mistake an especially ill-advised in our current economy. Talent management, coaching and executive education professionals need to bring this tough love message to the C-suite. Thankfully, we’re seeing the realization spread through electronic and print media…

Coert Visser, passing along some thoughts from David Creelman along with his own “critical examination of the strengths perspective”…

“I fear this might be too individualistic and we’d do well to move into a more interactive, dynamic and situationalist perspective.” Mr. Visser goes on to challenge the research that supports strengths-based leadership. Read more here: Solution Focused Change.

Colleagues Robert B. Kaiser and Robert E. Kaplan warn us, among other things, of “lopsided leadership”: “Once you overplay a strength, you’re at risk of diminished capacity on the opposite pole. For example, a leader who is good at getting people involved in decisions, and has been encouraged to build on that strength, may not realize that in engaging so many others he is taking too long to move into action. Among the senior managers we studied, 97% who overdo forceful leadership in some respect also underdo enabling leadership, according to coworkers. And 94% who overdo operational leadership in some way also underdo strategic leadership. Marked lopsidedness can limit your personal cachet and career prospects.” Read more here: Harvard Business Review.

Dr. Robert Hogan draws a line in the sand about the self-centered nature of positive psychology:
“…high level effectiveness is not the same thing as “flourishing”, a key term for Positive Psychology. IPAR data, for example, clearly show that many if not most talented and accomplished people are driven by private demons. And finally, it is not at all clear what “flourishing” means. If it means being able to live with oneself, then it is clearly only one aspect of psychological health, and it is an aspect that is closely related to narcissism. As such, it is likely to increase the ability to live with oneself at the expense of the ability to live with others, which in turn, will decrease the probability of occupational success (Judge, LePine, & Rich, 2006). If flourishing means self-actualization in a Maslowian sense, then it is simply wrong-headed.”
From “The Science of Personality.”

Where are you on this debate? Pass it on!