Play to your Strengths

I recently had the chance to meet with Dr. Tedd Mitchell the president of the Texas Tech University Health Science Center to talk about leadership. Before he was the president of the Health Science Center Dr. Mitchell was the CEO of The Cooper Clinic, an internationally renowned preventive medicine health clinic with more than 550 employees. He currently oversees about 10,000 employees within the Health Science Center programs. Dr. Mitchell knows a little bit about leadership and management.

He told me that one of the most important, and most seldom practiced, leadership principles is focusing on your strengths. You can only become truly exceptional at those things you consider to be your strengths. You have natural strengths with things that you ENJOY doing, so you will naturally gravitate toward those traits when given a choice. Most managers think that they need to identify their employees’ weaknesses and work to improve those weaknesses.

David almost took this approach when he faced Goliath in Samuel 17. Saul was concerned that David was too young and too small beat Goliath. He tried to force David to do it his way by arming him with bulky armor:

“38 And Saul armed David with his armour, and he put an helmet of brass upon his head; also he armed him with a coat of mail.

39 And David girded his sword upon his armour, and he assayed to go; for he had not proved it. And David said unto Saul, I cannot go with these; for I have not proved them. And David put them off him.”

David decided to play to his strengths instead of his weaknesses, and thank goodness for that. He was an expert with the sling and very fast. We all know how the story goes from there. What if David had listened to his “manager?” He would have played to his weaknesses by using that heavy armor. The story would have turned out very differently.

Comments: Have you ever had any experiences similar to this? Have you seen a person or an organization play to their strengths instead of their weaknesses?

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One thought on “Play to your Strengths

  1. In case you haven’t read it yet, you might want to pick up the book Strengthsfinder, or even more specifically, Strengths-based Leadership. It comes from the school of Positive Psychology and Positive Organizational Studies, which is centered on that very idea. Instead of seeking the weaknesses in individuals (or organizations) to diagnose for treatment, instead of seeks the strengths in the hopes of helping the individual develop those. In the past, many tried to simply “fix the problem” only to find that the solution is temporary. By instead focusing on strengths, often the weaknesses are brought along for the ride – they get better along with the improved strengths.

    As for specific examples, my favorite example is one I refer to as the employee who hired himself. We had a good relationship with this man as he ran the dock for our major shipping customer. He had suffered a pay cut and came to us asking for a job. We told him “Well, we have no real need until January, since this is our slow season. Check back in January.” Somehow he took that to mean we would hire him in January, which he shared with his employer. They responded by firing him immediately, and we felt bad enough about the misunderstanding that we went ahead and gave him a job. Within six months he was ranked among our top salesmen, and today he is number one. He accomplishes these sales by playing to his strengths of communication with drivers and suppliers, and he warms them up to future business by discussing their favorite sports. In some ways, it is arguable that these are his two main strengths with not very many others to show for it, yet he applies them so effectively that he appears to be a savant. Certainly I have seen other examples of strengths applied to effectiveness, but he is among the best to demonstrate that even with just two talents, a person can be the best in their job.

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