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A Couple Things to Learn about Leadership

Posted by Amy Wilson on October 26, 2009

Emmett Brown - Scientific Leader

Actually, it’s more than a couple … maybe 100 or so according to Lominger.

But just having missed 2 questions on Dan McCarthy’s Talent Management Challenge , I want to talk about those specifically:

(Take the test here and find the answers here.  You are bound to find some surprises!)


First, What is the most likely outcome of people focusing exclusively on developing their strengths and doing only those jobs that match their strengths?

A. It would only work well for those with the right strengths to begin with
B. People would be happier and more productive because they wouldn’t have to worry about their weaknesses
C. The strengths would get stronger, overwhelming any weaknesses that might get in the way
D. Strengths are likely to be overdone or not balanced, and unaddressed weaknesses would become blind spots
E. More people would become strong performers over time

I should have spotted the word “exclusively” and realized my answer of “E. More people would become strong performers over time” was overly optimistic.  My team recently conducted a Strengthsfinder exercise and we found it to be very valuable.  We learned a lot about ourselves, a lot about each other, and it seeded us with concrete plans on how to grow and get better.   Apparently, I missed Dan’s excellent post on The Perils of Accentuating the Positive in which he reviews the book of the same name.  “In a nutshell …,” he says “the ‘celebrate your strengths’ mantra is a feel-good, lazy way of side-stepping the hard work required to develop and be successful. It’s giving leaders ‘permission to stagnate””.

Ouch.  That one really hurts.  That will teach me to fall behind in my blog reading!  It also gives me a lot to think about.  I used to beat myself up a lot about my weaknesses.  When I discovered “strengths”, it gave me a refreshing attitude adjustment.  I felt more confident and motivated in my ability to be successful as a leader.  And I think that’s good.  What I’m learning is that beating myself up about my weaknesses too is actually good and healthy.  It’s all part of the wacky self-development puzzle.

(The right answer is D. Strengths are likely to be overdone or not balanced, and unaddressed weaknesses would become blind spots)


Second, How do high performers rate themselves compared to low performers?

A. Rate themselves higher than others rate them
B. Rate themselves the same as others rate them
C. Rate themselves lower than others do
D. Rate themselves lower than others do and lower than low performers
E. Rate themselves at the same level as low performers

I was pretty sure that A & B weren’t right and I got tripped up on the semantics of C & D, so I picked “E. Rate themselves at the same level as low performers.

The right answer is “D. Rate themselves lower than others do and lower than low performers.” This question, along with another question in Dan’s quiz (“Who is the least accurate judge of a manager’s job performance?”) tells us that self-assessments are meaningless and 360 feedback is a must.  This makes sense and it’s not surprising, but I’m not sure what to do with this information as I look to advise employees, mentees, not to mention myself.  There is other solid evidence out there that we should be marketing and positioning ourselves for more opportunities as well as developing self-awareness of our goodnesses (in addition to our weaknesses).  So I wonder: should I be advising my people to give themselves credit or be overly humble (as a good high performer should …)?

10 Responses to “A Couple Things to Learn about Leadership”

  1. Meg Bear said

    On the second point I think I would advice your team to always solicit feedback and attempt to judge themselves fairly and honestly based upon that feedback. I don’t think it does anyone any good to undersell themselves and I would never encourage anyone to do that in a hope that their manager can spot them as a high performer and see it as humility. I would also be on the look our for top performers who are underselling themselves and point that out to them.

    As far as beating yourself up on your weaknesses I don’t think that’s helpful. I think that you should be aware of your weaknesses and put plans in place to keep them from holding you back. BUT I do not think you should spend your time focusing on them directly. Attempting to make yourself into someone you are not is not a great use of time. Knowing what you are not and having a plan *is* a great use of time. This is why I think having a “Team You” is probably the most helpful of all. Getting people around you who can watch your back and tell it to you straight is what we all need. None of us has what it takes on our own.



  2. Teo Hernandez said

    Hi Amy,

    I disagree with the second “correct” answer. In this era of social networking is easy to analyze those high performers and how they rate themselves. If you look at postings in Facebook or Twitter for instance, you could notice that regular people, business analysts, etc are trying to outshine in any way they can, posting in multiple websites, trying to be the first ones to post news, trying to have the most tweets and retweets about an important article or news. So I disagree that high performers if they really know how valuable they are, they are going to rate themselves lower than others do and lower than low performers. But then I agree with Meg is a manager’s job to point that out of them.

    As for the first point … Strengths are likely to be overdone or not balanced, and unaddressed weaknesses would become blind spots) hmmmmmm, i know it is the employee’s and company’s responsibility to develop skills to overdone weakness, but the true is how often they are given opportunities to do so. Let’s face it recruiters are looking for skills, they are not searching for your weakness. Once you are on-board they normally place you in the area that you are more valuable. So it is a thought job in Talent Management to really help them on developing those skills. It is the company’s and our software responsibilities to help them on how to align long and short term goals and objectives with the company’s.

    My two cents.


  3. You missed 2 out of 100? You suck! And I hope you rated yourself much lower than all those low performers who think they totally rock.

    Seriously, I’m totally on board with #1 but #2 is a bit disappointing. Most of the high performers I know are well aware of it, most of them in a good way, not a jerky way. But they are definitely not out there assessing themselves lower than low performers.

  4. I’ve always liked the four-square of “What I’m Good At” on one axis and “What I Like to Do” on the other. My approach has traditionally been to try and keep people in the upper quadrant (Really Good At and Really Like to Do). #1 would suggest we need to feel OK about supporting our people as they play around in/work on the other quadrants. Makes sense. Thx

  5. […] A Couple Things to Learn about Leadership […]

  6. Amy Wilson said

    @working girl – goodness no! I missed 2 out of 10. When the book comes in the mail, I’ll try the full 100 and let you know how I do.

    @meg, @Teo, @working girl, @charlie – I’m starting to think that #2 is really a manifestation of low self-awareness, rather than an indicator of performance in and of itself. To use Meg’s words: self-awareness is the new black. Let’s focus on that and a lot of our missed answers will resolve themselves.

  7. Amy Wilson said

    Speak of the devil … check out Bob Sutton’s post Flawed Self-Evaluations: David Dunning’s fascinating work

  8. […] our own post referring back to Dan’s  Talent Management Challenge … oh my, I think I’ve gone […]

  9. […] think about what makes the individual tick and prosper.  I think about how they can leverage their strengths to be even better.  And, I try my very best to give them feedback throughout the year.  In […]

  10. […] It’s possible you rate yourself as a better performer (unless you are a high performer) […]

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