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Should Leadership Development Eliminate Weaknesses or Exploit Strengths?

January 06, 2016 / Leave a comment / by Dr. David Gruder

 The importance of leadership development in business success is no longer debated. Leading leadership consultants like Ken Blanchard, John Maxwell, Stephen Covey and Marshall Goldsmith agree that top-notch leadership development is essential for seasoned executives as budding talent, when building and sustaining high performing organizations.

Of all the executive development areas, EQ (Emotional Intelligence) appears to have become the most universally endorsed. And for good reason. As Travis Bradbury of Forbes puts it, "EQ skills empower people to deal with anyone, in any situation.” As a clinical and organizational development psychologist who has been a leader development mentor and trainer since the 1980s, I agree with him.

The question is, which EQ skills are the most useful to focus on in leadership upgrade initiatives? The most obvious answer is, whichever skills a particular leader would most benefit from developing. But what’s the menu of EQ stills development options? And even more to the point, is it better to focus on developing a leader’s weaker EQ area or on exploiting their EQ strengths?

Miranda Kennett of Management Today talks about "a seismic shift in the leadership development world away from concentrating on weaknesses (or 'development opportunities', as they were euphemistically termed) to focus on identifying and exploiting our strengths.” This trend is based on the belief that developing weaknesses isn’t a unsuccessful strategy, but that focusing on our inadequacies is depressing. Kennett goes on to assert that “since we can't build on weaknesses we're better off spending our energy on making the most of our strengths.”

Her position parallels the Positive Psychology movement’s position: accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative. Don’t go delving into dark waters. Keep your attention on the sunny side of the street.

Yet, other leadership experts, such as my colleague Hugh Ballou, stress the importance of discovering your leadership gaps because those gaps limit leadership effectiveness at best and create damage at worst. Ballou’s position has parallels in the field of psychology as well. In fact, one of my long-time sayings is that "leaders lead at the level of their psychological limitations instead of their business’s highest intentions."

So, which is it: "Illuminate the negative” as my colleague David Corbin puts it, by understanding and fixing the behaviors that are holding us back, as Marshall Goldsmith’s best-selling book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There is all about? Or focus on the “power of positive thinking” as Napoleon Hill advocates in his classic book “Think and Grow Rich," and his many adherents passionately advocate?

Since I was a teenager I have been fascinated by our tendency as human beings to turn both/and into either/or. Whether in politics, religion, or personal development. Similarly, with leader development is it truly prudent to play to our strengths and sidestep our gaps?

All of us have natural strengths, acquired strengths, acknowledged gaps and hidden gaps.

Natural Strengths

Acknowledged Gaps

Acquired Strengths

Hidden Gaps

 My experience is that the leaders who become the most effective and fulfilled are the ones who pay attention to all four of these areas:

  • They have taken ownership of their natural strengths, they make the most of them, and they look for opportunities to further refine their capacity to utilize these.
  • They have the courage to uncover the leadership gaps they didn’t know they have and they make strategic decisions about which they will turn into acquired strengths, and which they will make sure that others on the leader team have instead.

Kennett's notion that it’s not a good idea to address our weaknesses because doing this is depressing is, from my perspective, a kind of EQ deficit. A leader who can’t look honestly at their gaps without getting depressed lacks self-esteem. Leaders with self-esteem deficits tend to be ineffective wimps or ineffective egotists/tyrants. In other words, a leader who can’t look upon his or her deficits with open eyes, and yet without shame, will never become sustainably effective or sustainably happy in being a leader.

So, yes, leadership development is absolutely vital to business success. Yes, EQ skills are absolutely essential to leadership effectiveness. And yes, EQ includes becoming masterful in how we utilize our natural strengths, in how we turn well-selected gaps we have into acquired strengths, and in who we surround ourselves with that have the rest of the strengths our business needs to succeed.

Stop paying attention to the “experts" who advocate ignoring your gaps. Don’t settle for those who lack the expertise to help you further upgrade the usefulness of your natural and acquired strengths. And don’t waste your money on ones without the wisdom to help you discern which of your gaps to fill yourself versus which ones to bring others onto your team to fill.

You wouldn’t have made it all the way through this article unless you’re truly committed to your leadership effectiveness and your business’s success. You’d therefore be wisest to insist on utilizing only those leader development resources who can brilliantly help you in all of these areas, not just with some of them.

What are your thoughts on the subject? Have you experienced the cross road of this choice? 

Authentic Leadership: 4 Principles that Create a High Impact Business

September 09, 2015 / Leave a comment / by Bill Stierle


Creating a high impact business requires an authentic leader that fosters loyal teams, builds trust with new clients, and inspires hard work and efficiency.

Yet, in business we run into many challenges that can create emotional charges for us as individuals.

For example, it can feel frustrating when learning a new software program, or become angry with teams that are performing below ability, or we can get annoyed when someone asks about bookkeeping details when we're brainstorming in a strategic planning meeting.

There's a way to use emotions and needs as tools to develop an authentic leadership that can replace the 'driven problem solver'. 

With these four principles of emotional intelligence’s you can create communication ease, work flow effectiveness and generate authentic leadership.

So why does emotional intelligence create a higher business impact?

Because customers and employees crave connection and meaning, these are increased by vulnerability and sharing our humanness. Across almost all business metrics people buy and buy-in from connection.


1. Shift 'Judgment' to 'Observation'

So, what’s the difference? Judgment focuses on how things that “should” or “should not” be.

Judgmental words cause physiological changes in the body preventing clarity, understanding, and connection. Getting stuck in a black-and-white thinking, physically creates the flight, fight, or freeze reaction in the body.

Being the observer of a situation allows us to communicate and act clear-headedly about the fact of the matter.

By noticing what “is” provides clarity and decisiveness to act. Word choice matters.  Authentic leaders have courage to bring bad news early and express things honesty.


2. Increase your Emotional Vocabulary

“Human beings are born with the emotional capacity of a symphony orchestra yet most people walk through life blowing through a tin whistle.” Rollo May.

While working with the company’s top employee, Jessica’s manager reprimands her in front of others. If she uses a rational thought of, “I’ll just push through and ignore my anger,” and as she continues working, tension builds and emotions accumulate over time. 

So when her boss points out a future mistake. She blows up, “nothing is ever good enough for you!”  By ignoring her anger, it got worse.  

When we're feeling something, especially minor, and don’t express your feelings and needs, it builds the emotional load like a volcano.  

Authentic leadership develops a broad emotional vocabulary that safely engages communication early. Naming feelings and needs effectively reduces the emotions inside others as well as ourselves.  

With low emotional expression, both Jessica and her manager can trigger each other affecting the work environment.

Cultivate the thought that emotions are only indicators; like a car’s oil light. Thinking the oil light is problematic for businesses, causes issues to go unaddressed and get worse.

Emotional management is a multi-billion dollar loss in productivity, HR issues, and talent turnover. Authentic leadership observes rising emotions and learns to become curious and inquires what need the emotion is indicating.


3. Identifying and connecting Needs to Emotions

“At the core of all anger [emotion] is a need that is not being fulfilled,” Marshall Rosenberg Ph.D.

Emotions connected to a need causes it to immediately reduce the physiological response, thus subsiding the emotion. The body relaxes. The language association restores clarity and perspective and will prevent the emotion from replaying in the future.  

The authentic leader focuses on fulfilling the need of the employee or customer. 

George is attending a banquet celebrating the completion of their 6-month building project. As the assistant director it wouldn’t have been successful without him.

The MC only announces gratitude to program director, Suzanne. George feels disheartened, “without me this project wouldn’t have been successful.” George’s need for acknowledgment and recognition were not met, triggering his pain.

George’s options:

1) Suppress his feelings, becoming a “nice dead person”

2) Carry resentment becoming “monster person”

3) Rationalize the emotion, “talking to the oil light” attempting to soothe himself or

4) Self Empathy.

George needed acknowledgment and recognition by being mentioned with Suzanne.

An authentic leader develops the ability to express clearly what their needs are, thus de-escalate the body’s emotions.


4. Making Clear Requests

George’s clear, present request would be to ask; Suzanne or a colleagues, “Would you be willing to acknowledge the hard work I put into the project?

But how does George get his needs met after the fact?  

Authentic leadership checks in using empathy before problem solving.

Suzanne “George, in this moment, what can I say or do to acknowledge you and your efforts moving forward?”  

This type of questioning provides George the opportunity to get clarity on the next best thing and open an engaging conversation.  


The bottom line is, being a leader is to provide the vision to lead your team forward. And an authentic leader puts the heart in the process of communication. Knowing how to self-manage our emotions and connect needs reduces conflict, allowing us to work from our strengths, managing shortcomings, and being  a more effective authentic leader as well.


Sources:  Marshall Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication: A Language for Life.


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