Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Building on our strengths

In chapter 3 of Reggie McNeal's book, Practicing Greatness: 7 Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders, he discusses the idea of building on our strengths, rather than our weaknesses. He says on pp. 68-69...
Great leaders differ from good leaders, in part, because of the degree to which they have developed and built on their strengths. These leaders have figured out that their best shot at making their greatest contribution to the world is for them to get better at what they are already good at. So they have decided to focus on their talent - identifying it and developing it.

Making this determination has been counterintuitive because building on our strengths is not what our culture teaches us. Our culture focuses on weaknesses, not on strengths. Just let a student come home from school with a report card bearing four A's and one C. What do you think the discussion will be about? Or imagine many conversations with kids who show talent in one area, only to be directed to spend their time and energy working in another area where they do not show as much potential -- all in an effort to "balance them out." Here's a newsflash: people are not balanced! God did not design or build us to be balanced. Our talent, our passions, our personalities are all ways we are "out of round," where we are not "normal" or "average."

The result of our culture's obsession with weakness is that each of us is very well acquainted with what we are not good at. We can all recall some comments by coaches, teachers, parents, and peers who pointed out our lack of talent in this area or that. Unfortunately, many leaders spend all their lives trying to prove to someone they can overcome their weaknesses instead of capitalizing on their strengths...

This is such a huge concept (imho). And, to be perfectly honest, I really have no idea what my strengths are myself. Generally I tend to think I make a good small-church pastor because I can do many things "okay" but not any one thing very well. I wish I had a better handle on this.

In one example McNeal talks about Ted Williams, the legendary baseball hitter, and how he was once asked to help coach a rookie who had just arrived from the minors. The rookie was having trouble hitting, and Williams told him to "just watch the stitches." The rookie had no idea what he was talking about, and Williams said to watch the stitches on the baseball as it was coming at him - which way they were rotating would influence how the ball behaved. Williams had no idea that he was one of the few people who could actually SEE the stitches on a 95-mile-an-hour fastball coming at him! That was his strength.

Some of the things McNeal suggests to help us find our strengths are: asking what gives us a sense of accomplishment; where do we have glimpses of excellence; what are we able to learn quickly (we should spend more time learning what interests us and less trying to learn what totally does not interest us); in what areas are we willing to continue to grow and capable of continued development; and by getting feedback from others about our strengths, not just our weakness (he suggests most leaders concentrate too much on negative feedback).

This is definitely something I could use some help with. I am hoping I will learn more about this through the Missional Leadership Initiative I will be taking part in over the next two years.

Until then... peace out; and in.


Jim said...

I really appreciated this chapter. Gave me peace and encouragement to encourage others to really work on what they are good at.

Really looking forward to the retreat!

Jim said...

The middle paragraph of the quote got me thinking of what I am like as a PARENT, which is also being a leader, and realizing how much I come up short (ooh! ooh! Focusing on my weaknesses again! :o)

Good post, has me thinking. And maybe that's one of your strengths - you write well and make people think.

dan horwedel said...

Jim W. - yes, I'm looking forward to the retreat too. Was glad to see your name on the list.

Jim L. - good point about parenting. It's very much being a leader (as long as they let you think that anyway). :)

Jim said...

I've always been taken by the Buddhist approach that children are guests in your house.

How to balance that with trying to "bring them up"? And what does "up" mean, anyway?

Your post has started a parenting conversation in our house, I'll tell you that.