Building on strengths

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In The Effective Executive, Peter Drucker set out to define the core practices of powerful leaders within organizations. The book, which was first published in 1966, has since become a canon among leadership novels. One of the central tenets of his work was that executives emphasize strengths rather than weaknesses. I found it to be the most salient point in the entire work.

Drucker stresses that executives should focus on strengths. This seems self-explanatory, except that doing so means ignoring weaknesses. The effective executive “does not make staffing decisions to minimize weaknesses but to maximize strength.” Drucker doesn’t hold stake in the idea of being a well-rounded person. “All the talk of ‘the whole man’ or the ‘mature personality’ hides a profound contempt for man’s most specific gift: his ability to put all his resources behind one activity, one field of endeavor, one area of accomplishment.”

“Two mediocrities achieve even less than one mediocrity – they just get in each other’s way. Abilities must be specific to produce performance.”

However, this doesn’t mean ignoring all weakness. He states that weaknesses should only be addressed when they interfere with strengths. Everything else should be thrown to the wind.

Drucker cites the example of Northern generals during the Civil War. He writes that President Lincoln originally chose his first four generals for their absence of weakness. As a result, they made little progress even with superior resources. His choice in Lee was based on strength. Each one of Lee’s staff had some major flaw, but he positioned them so only their strengths would shine through.  Even Lee himself was known for loving the bottle, but this didn’t hinder his performance on the battlefield. As a result, “the ‘well-rounded’ men Lincoln had appointed were beaten time and again by Lee’s ‘single-purpose tools,’ the men of narrow but very great strength.”

– Sebastien Bauge

One Comment on “Building on strengths”

  1. I am glad you took on this classic and reminded me of its gems.
    First Things First which became a Covey mantra and even a book by him (I think) may have been inspired from this. How can we find out?

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