Build on Strength, Not Weakness

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Peter Drucker, The Father of Modern Management told us that we must build on our strengths, not our weaknesses. If we spend significant time, money, and effort trying to build something when the best we can achieve are only marginal benefits for our efforts, we are making a major misallocation of our always limited resources.

Former GE CEO Jack Welch, credits Drucker advice as the basis of his amazing success during his tenure as  CEO of GE. On retirement he received the largest retirement package ($417 million) ever awarded a retiring CEO from any corporation. Fortune Magazine named him “Manager of the Century.” Welch had directed that if a GE business was not number one or two in its market, and was unlikely to become such, even if profitable, the business would be sold or liquidated and the resources invested in GE businesses of more potential for greater gain. This is a near perfect example of what Drucker recommended. Welch told every GE CEO to analyze his or her business to determine if the business could become number one or two in its market if it was not already in this position. If it wasn’t number one or two and couldn’t become such, it was sold or shut down and the resources used elsewhere in the company for greater profitability in was the criteria to use in determining its strength, not just being profitable. This was previously the primary criterion used. The result was increasing GE’s already high value by 4000% in 9 years.

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Strength and Weaknesses

People Do not Always Know Their Strengths

You’ve probably heard the old expression, “He doesn’t know his own strength.” Drucker found that though most people think they know their strengths, they are almost invariably wrong.  Yet building on strength is of great importance, Jack Welch demonstrated that. focusing on a less important  factor and missing a bigger one, or spending too much time in eliminating a weaknesses which might be of lesser  unimportance or even irrelevant can even cause us – in the common vernacular – “to miss our calling” or at least to miss the opportunities in many situations which lead to success.


How to Identify Your Strengths

Drucker said that there was only one way to identify your strengths. He called it “feedback analysis.” He said that in a short time you would be able to identify your own strengths and even promised that you’d usually be surprised at the results.

Drucker’s advised methodology was simple. Whenever you take an important action or decision, write down the outcome that you expect first. When results are achieved, compare them with those you had expected. If expected and actual results are the same or close, this identifies a strength and you should exploit it. Drucker’s system works because you will usually, but not always, be able to predict an outcome accurately if you have the required strength that you expected and will fail do so if you do not. Continue to do this and after a while a clear picture of your confirmed strengths will emerge.

What Should You do Next?

Drucker said that this knowledge must  be followed by “action conclusions.” Here are a few of his suggestions.

Use Your Strengths to Achieve Something Spectacular

I recently read that ‘30s and ‘40s movie actress Hedy Lamarr, was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna, Austria. She made lots of films but was best known for an early one made in Czechoslovakia in 1933 called “Ecstasy” which defined her film persona. Need I say more? However, Ms. Lamarr  although few knew it, was well educated and was also a math prodigy and was co-inventor of wireless technology used in both the Bluetooth and the cell phone of today. She was even inducted into the U.S. National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014. Ms. Lamarr made 32 films. Some were fair, but none were spectacular. The technology she invented was indeed spectacular. Only she would be able to answer the question as to whether she chose wisely in developing her strength and resources to B-movie acting over mathematics and inventing. Maybe she did what she enjoyed best, and that is indeed an important factor. Maybe she considered what she achieved with her beauty and acting ability to be more self satisfying and this shouldn’t be ignored. However, the tremendous results she achieved in science with minimum time and resources are unquestioned. What if she had allocated her time, money and effort differently? I never watched any of her movies, but to the best of my knowledge, she never won any special acclaim.

Strengthen Your Strengths

Steve Jobs was a young student dropout who left  Reeds College in Portland, Oregon after one semester. The young ex-college student had learned something about electronics previously, and he liked the idea of personal computers, but he couldn’t build even a computer board himself in those days. Fortunately for him, he had a friend, Steve Wozniak, who could. Wozniak gave him a computer board, that is a complete computer built on a single circuit board, with microprocessor, memory, input/output (I/O) and other features required of a functional computer that at he had constructed. Jobs had this board with him during a job interview with the Atari Company .which built computer games. Atari hired Jobs as a technician, assuming  that it was he that had built the computer board. Jobs saved his money earned as an Atari technician and when he had enough money saved, he left for India in search of spiritual enlightenment. Meanwhile, his friend Steve Wozniak had gone on to build a working personal computer which he showed to Jobs on his return. This was Job’s crossroad.  Jobs grasped the potential  immediately and left Atari after persuading Wozniak to start a company with him to manufacture and sell the computer Wozniak had built. He developed his ability to visualize, if not build computers by himself and based on his success founded the entire personal computer industry. He concluded that he’d been enlightened sufficiently, and except for vacations or business, didn’t return to India.

Avoid Intellectual Arrogance

Drucker warned that overwhelming knowledge in only one area to the exclusion of all else was a mistake. Psychologically it blocked intellectual innovation in many other areas.  Drucker said such people frequently demonstrated limited performance because they excluded knowledge from other fields needed to supplement  their work even if it was a strength.

Albert Einstein was pretty good at math, but after graduating college,  he took the only job as an assistant examiner at the Patent Office in Bern, Switzerland. He won his success not by scientific management and quantitative analysis, but by using his imagination while working in this dead-end job. Einstein was only 26. He had no access to computers, (which didn’t exist). white-coated lab or student assistants.  He had no university connection. Despite his limited education, in 1905, he wrote four major scientific papers published in a single year while at the Patent Office including confirming the speed of light and what has been called the most famous equation ever develop, E =M C² which explained the conservation of energy. This  unique achievement caught the attention of established scientists and gained him reputation and fame. He was offered and accepted a position as a university professor, awarded the Novel Prize in Physics and achieved world fame for his amazing accomplishments made in a single year.

Other “Action Conclusions” Recommended by Drucker

  • Remedy serious shortcomings or bad habits.

If you have serious problems, fix them. If your best work doesn’t come when you are inebriated, don’t drink.

  • Social skills may be more important than you think.

Many bright, knowledgeable people fail because they ignore simple social graces like saying “thank you.” Drucker called manners the “lubricating oil” necessary for best practice and was frequently needed for gaining support from others for their activities.

  • Don’t take on assignments in which you are not yet competent.

Don’t act as a Chinese interpreter unless you can speak and understand Chinese. A no-brainer? Yet, how many overly ambitious managers without the requisite knowledge use office politics to get ahead and take on tasks for which they are not yet competent. This is different from taking on tasks for which you are competent but lack confidence because you haven’t done them before.  Incompetence can cause huge failures which stop further advancement.

  • Don’t waste time and effort  raising your performance in areas where you cannot attain significant advantage.

Jack Welch grew GE 4000% during his tenure as CEO not by squeezing small change out of every profitable business, but by selling off or closing every GE business, including those profitable, which was not, or could not, become number one or two in its industry.



A Class with Drucker: The Lost Lessons of the World’s Greatest Management Teacher by William A. Cohen (AMACOM, 2008)

Peter Drucker’s Way to the Top Lessons for Reaching Your Life Goals by William Cohen (LID, 2019).


For more from William Cohen, click here.


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