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Should We Be Coaching Only To Our People’s Strengths?

by David Brock on June 18th, 2017

Many people focus on coaching to their people’s strengths.  The argument is that it’s far easier to get people to improve the things they are good at then to focus on reducing their weaknesses.

To some degree, I get the argument, people are possibly more engaged because we are working at what they are good at and probably what they enjoy doing.  Time to results is probably faster, because they are already strong in those areas and we are just improving it.

I’ve seen some examples like, “If they aren’t good at prospecting, then don’t waste your time…..”  This argues for whole organizational designs with people specialized on doing what they are strong at and not what they are weak at.  (There are some interesting Cost Of Selling and other issues with this.)

But I really struggle with this focus.  What if some of the things we are weak on are critical to our ability to do the job?

The problem with the focus on strengths argument seems, at least to me, to ignore the fact that we have to be capable of doing the whole job–not just the parts we like or are good at.  If we can’t do the whole job, we fail, we don’t achieve our goals, we become a performance problem.

Our jobs as leaders is maximizing the ability of each person to perform in their role.  That means we have to focus on both what they do well–seeking continuous improvement, but also on what they do poorly–getting them to improve.

It’s important to our people as well.  Not just from the point of view of their current performance, but for them to grow and develop in their careers.  As they seek higher level jobs and new challenges, they need a balanced set of skills.  The developmental and career paths of a person narrowly focused on what they do well is very limited.

It’s easy to coach strengths, but we aren’t doing our jobs or helping our people unless we look at the things they need to improve and help them with those.  We need to coach both strengths and weaknesses.



  1. Martin Schmalenbach permalink

    Thought provoking as ever Dave!

    It just so happens I’m on a 2+ week trip through parts of China & Taiwan, working with local teams and managers on several aspects, including adoption by them of coaching.

    In our practice sessions what has become clear to them is that coaching is a wonderful way of building mutual respect, self confidence, credibility and so on. It’s also a wonderful way for the coachee to discover new talents, or the seeds of new talents, that they really want to nurture and develop.

    Coaching to somebody’s strengths alone is like taking a really well polished diamond, and polishing it even more.

    Coaching only to somebody’s strengths seems to me to be largely an exercise in NOT building those things I listed above.

    It’s akin to “teaching granny to suck eggs” as we say back home.

    There is one benefit I can think of in coaching to somebody’s strengths – building, or perhaps REbuilding, their self confidence in their strengths, whether it is in terms of sales or client engagement process, or as a great team player and supporter of the leadership team.

    That said, I believe coaching in any other context is where there is arguably greater value for all involved.

    It’s a great way also to develop or at least observe, people’s attitudes to developing themselves and always striving to be the best. Most critical sales skills etc are learnable, and so doable by anybody, with training & support. IF they have the right mindset, including wanting to constantly improve and do better by their clients and their colleagues.

    • Martin, as usual you capture so many important concepts in your comments, not the least of which is teaching me a brand new saying. (Teaching granny to suck eggs)

      We have to coach the “whole job.” People won’t succeed if they can’t do the whole job, and it’s our fault if we’ve hired someone that doesn’t have the capability to do the whole job.

  2. David,

    I would think what you say here settles the issue: “If we can’t do the whole job, we fail, we don’t achieve our goals, we become a performance problem.”

    I coach strong sales performers and I tell them essentially what you are saying–if they are weak in an area and can’t delegate it they must improve their skills in that area.

    I am a one person business. If I fail to address a weakness that impacts my revenue, it’s crystal clear I have to fix that or suffer the consequences.

    It’s the manager’s responsibility to address any weakness that is a performance problem unless ignoring it doesn’t impact something vital.

  3. Well said! Prior to identifying strengths and performance, managers need to understand what really drives/motivates the employee. In other words, “what makes them tick.”

    Everyone is hard wired differently, and demonstrates those core characteristics that come naturally to them. Example: a direct, outgoing, task-oriented gal tends to take more of a leadership role, whereas a people-oriented, reserved guy feels more comfortable in a supportive role. I’m over simplifying a bit, but I think you get my point. Those weaknesses, or blind spots, are those characteristics that don’t necessarily come naturally.

    I’ll step off my DISC soapbox now:-)

    • Rant on Kathy! You are absolutely on target. We need to be adjusting our approach to each person on the team. Thanks so much.

  4. Good post, Dave (you’ve really need on a roll lately).

    Like most of life, it’s a bell curve, right? There should be a balance. I see problems occurring most often in the extremes, where managers focus only on improving developmental areas (aka weaknesses) or focus only on building strengths. Give your people what THEY need, but remember that you can’t just tear down, without building up.

    • Absolutely Mike, we have to have a balanced approach. We also have to avoid piling on. We confuse them trying to address too many strengths and weaknesses at one time. We have far better results focusing only on a couple of areas, then moving to the next…..

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