Strong weaknesses or weak strengths?

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching principles

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I read a report recently, and typically I can’t find it now, that looked at how much leadership coaching is focused on developing strengths versus addressing weaknesses.

As I recall there were some regional differences (and some of that may have been cultural) but for the most part coaching – certainly at the executive level – is an exercise in developing strengths.

There may be some obvious reasons for this. Coaches tend to be an optimistic bunch and may just be happier working in that context. External coaches are paid to get a result and that commercial reality may mean they see quicker and easier wins focusing on building strengths.

But the other point of view is perhaps best captured in the title of Marshall Goldsmith’s recent book “What got you here won’t get you there!” In other words it may be the individuals strengths which have delivered them to their position today but it may be their weaknesses that are now keeping them stuck.

On the subject of weaknesses, in my corporate days this was a word that HR seemed to want struck from the lexicon entirely. All sorts of other phrases were offered as substitutes: development areas, training needs, learning points, etc. Most people I think always recognised that there were things they weren’t very good at whatever we called them.

Personally, I don’t see it as an either or choice. I consider the people I coach best placed to determine what they need to do to solve problems or move towards their goals and this may mean addressing a ‘weakness’ or it may mean developing a ‘strength’.

But that’s just my view, what do you think?

• When you’re coaching are you conscious of addressing strengths or weaknesses?
• Does it matter?
• Is it different for Internal and External coaches?

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.

By the way, the most interesting answer I ever heard to the old cliché question of, “What do you consider your weaknesses?”, was “My strengths. If I over-play them!” How would you respond to that?

Oh, and if anyone can remind me where I may have seen this reported, can you let me know, so I can download it again.

By all means ditch the Annual Appraisal, but please let’s not stop reviewing performance!

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching Skills for Managers

Like a House of cards

Lately I’ve seen a number of articles suggesting it’s time to abandon performance reviews, claiming they’re a tired relic of 20thcentury manual-work that has no relevance to today’s knowledge-work environments.

There are certainly some obvious problems: how to ensure managers’ views of Excellent, Average,etc are the same; how to link the outcomes to pay without destroying motivation and how to stop staff and managers bending the system to suit themselves. (I worked with a company a couple of years back where someone told me that the staff pooled their Force Ranked bonuses and then redistributed them evenly amongst themselves!)

It’s also true that many managers and leaders can lack the skill or the inclination to conduct effective review conversations, as beautifully captured in the classic “Keith’s Appraisal” scene in The Office

According to an article I found on Forbes from Jan 18 some 35 out of 37 managers would happily give up performance reviews and this is what makes me nervous, because I wonder what they’ll do instead.

Whilst I whole heartedly agree that formalised Annual Appraisal type systems are largely outdated and pretty ineffective, I cannot agree that it is not a useful business process to review performance in an effort to understand what’s going well and what’s going less well.

In my experience, people need five key questions answered as they consider their work performance:

  • What is my job?
  • How well do I have to do it?
  • How am I doing?
  • How have I done?
  • What’s next?

But answering these does not require endless forms (or their electronic equivalent), hours of time in meeting rooms, or complex consistency checks by senior management.

In fact, an annual appraisal is simple if we’ve held regular one to ones, which are easy if we coach regularly, which we can do readily if we talk to our teams often, which we can do if we’re out of our cubicles and engaging regularly around the five questions above.

In that way, even if we do have to follow some kind of organisational process, we can get through it quickly knowing that the valuable stuff has already happened.

I’d be really keen to hear from anyone who’s swapped a formal appraisal system from an informal review approach and seen great results.

Can I have that disciplinary meeting now please?

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching principles


A friend of mine is in sales. He sells high-end financial services products and is finding it hard going in the current market. The company’s main product has changed, making it much harder to sell and he has been given a new territory with very few of the affluent prospective clients he needs.

Whilst he’s a very experienced seller with a terrific track-record, his results and declining and his bosses are getting uptight. Knowing I have coached around such issues previously he got in contact looking for help.

I wanted to understand what would happen if things didn’t improve. My friend said, “Oh, they’ve told me in no uncertain terms that I’ll have to attend a disciplinary interview where we’ll examine ways my performance could improve; with a timetable and methods for tracking improvement.”

“And what did you say?” I asked.

“I said that sounds like it could be really helpful and could we do it now please!!”

I can see the point of a disciplinary interview for problems of willingness.By this I mean, recurring lateness, continual dubious sickness, being rude to colleagues or customers, etc.

But to discipline someone regarding their ability– struggling to use their knowledge, skills, experience and resources, seems to me to be daft.

In fairness, my friend works for a company that has grown very fast and which lacks a seasoned HR function and this could well be part of the problem, but the story also highlights a couple of crucial coaching principles:

  • Telling someone to be do something does not enable them to be able to do it


  • Waving sticks (or withdrawing carrots) may work a treat in motivating donkeys but it doesn’t do much for professional adults in a work situation

I’m reminded of the old saw of the company director who announced,

“Unless morale improves, sackings will continue”

 What do you think?