In my last two coaching blogs, I discussed the concept of a balance sheet applied to coaching. I ended one blog with an important principle central to coaching: that coaching is more effective when coachees focus on their assets rather than their liabilities. This principle runs counter to conventional wisdom. Most people are acutely aware of their liabilities. In an effort to improve, they focus their energy on trying to overcome these liabilities. Liabilities are viewed as blockers to success, so it is natural that people try to eliminate them. Data suggest that working on eliminating liabilities has not proven to be very effective. At best, we may see some improvement. But what If we were to spend most of our time leveraging our assets rather than working to eliminate our liabilities? How much more could be accomplished in the same time period? This question needs to be answered through research. Anecdotally, there are lots of examples that suggest working on assets is the better approach. Such is the case of Kevin, described below.
Kevin is the head of a major North American distribution company. He is introverted and soft spoken. Some see these attributes as liabilities when it comes to inspiring or motivating others. Kevin’s lack of charisma could be a serious challenge to his ability to lead his team and the organization. His coaching involved creating a balance sheet based on a 360-degree feedback study that Kevin requested. From this feedback, reflection on past experiences, and the Strength Finder, an assessment of strengths based on research done by the Gallop Organization and first reported by Buckingham and Clifton in their 2002 book, “Now Discover Your Strengths,” Kevin was able to identify his assets and liabilities. What Kevin was encouraged to focus on was his assets. The assets that stood out were strategic focus, a thorough understanding of the business operation, trust, and integrity.
Rather than trying to eliminate his liabilities, Kevin developed a plan to leverage his assets. This was accomplished by sharing his vision and how he was going to help the company reach new heights with his team. He also shared his balance sheet and identified those on his team who could help him manage his liabilities. His team embraced his plan and gave him full support. He was able to find more extroverted associates who became his spokespersons in communicating his vision and strategy for the company. Kevin still addressed the workforce at town meetings, but he was clearly not as enthusiastic or animated as his appointed associates. Kevin was respected for his assets and his willingness to involve his team. His team admired his openness and willingness to share in the leadership of the company. As a result of Kevin’s leveraging his assets and managing his liabilities, the company had record years of sales and profitability. His corporate leaders were impressed with Kevin’s leadership and promoted him to take over worldwide distribution.
Acknowledging and sharing assets and liabilities was important for Kevin. While such public acknowledgement is a demonstration of human vulnerability, it has the power to lead to much stronger executive performance and positive organizational results. Kevin was able to leverage his assets to move his company forward. He also managed his liabilities through partnering with members of his team. The combination of leveraging his assets and managing his liabilities enhanced his leadership and performance.
I could not agree more about the importance of leaders focusing on their assets and finding resources to support their liabilities. I have often found myself confused by people’s focus on their liabilities. If you have strengths that you take for granted and only focus on developing your liabilities I believe the result can only be mediocre. However, if you focus your energy on improving your strengths you are more likely to achieve your greatest potential. Additionally, in my coaching experience, leaders who have the courage to show their vulnerabilities receive the greatest respect from followers.