I’ve been re-reading a book by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval, The Power of Nice, published in 2006. (The two co-owned an advertising agency at the time the book came out. In 2012, they merged with another New York firm, Publicis, and the company is now called Publicis Kaplan Thaler.)
Chapter 6 of The Power of Nice is called Tell the Truth, and it focuses on the importance of being honest with the people you work with. The authors write, “…telling the truth is one of the most direct routes to getting ahead in the world.” A few sentences later they add, “You can’t tell the truth is you’re not willing to hear it from others. This is especially true if you’re a manager or boss.” Such wise words.
Later in the chapter, there’s this subheading: Find the strength in the weakness.
Thaler and Koval write about hiring a very talented account director who had been fired from his previous two jobs. “As we discovered, the reason was simple: He had a terrible temper. He yelled at his assistants, his partners, even his clients. Soon we had to tell him the bitter truth: That his uncontrollable temper was undermining his career. That unless he enrolled in an anger management course, he would be fired from this job as well.”
They knew that it would be hard for him to hear and accept the truth. So instead of confronting the guy by focusing only on the negative behavior, these two very smart leaders took another approach. “We began our meeting by saying we felt the reason he gets angry is that he’s a perfectionist. He wants to do a stellar job on every project. And it makes him impatient when things go off course.” They didn’t excuse his inappropriate behavior–but they did demonstrate appreciation for his high standards and let him know that they saw his temper as “a side effect of his perfectionism, rather than something that defines his entire character.”
Not totally surprisingly, the hothead was “shocked” when he learned about the impact of his behavior. “Apparently no one, even his past bosses, had told him how disruptive he was being. He came back the next day and thanked us for giving him the tough love he needed to help see, and change, his behavior. He was completely willing to work on his anger problem, because he didn’t want to lose his job and he understood that we recognized something very positive about the source of his anger and impatience–his perfectionism.”
You might think that’s the end of the story–but it’s not. The last paragraph further illustrates what it means to focus on the strengths of employees. “Today, while he still struggles with this tendency to be hot tempered, he has come a long way in restraining his behavior and being more respectful of others. And we, in turn, have recognized his improvement by having him work on more high-profile pitches and accounts, as well as having him tackle more complex projects that require a lot of attention to detail–tasks that others might not have had the patience for. As a result, he is now at the top of his profession and has helped the agency land several multi-million-dollar accounts.”
Most of us have blind spots in the areas where our strengths are in overdrive. Here at Forte, we see the impact of overdrive all the time in the workplaces where we provide strengths-based coaching and development programs. It’s one of the big reasons why we’re such fans of the Strengthscope assessment–because during the assessment debrief, most people gain immediate personal insight and understand the unintended negative consequences of their strengths in overdrive. They’re able to identify blind spots, see themselves much more as others see them, and learn to avoid overdrive by tapping into other strengths that they have.
Focusing on strengths–and the positive in every situation–helps create workplace cultures that are strong and positive!