Fixing Weaknesses or Building Strengths?
In a study of the factors that underlie leadership failures, Jack Zenger and I reviewed the feedback assessments of leaders described as “failing.”1
After reviewing the data, it became clear that those leaders were doing something wrong. It was also clear that feedback surveys could accurately identify significant problems to those who were failing, and that those people should pay close attention to the feedback and work hard to make corrections. The data showed, for example, if an individual had received significant negative evaluations on critical competencies, that person’s overall perceived effectiveness was very low. On the surface, the study seemed to reinforce our approach of encouraging people to identify and accept feedback on weaknesses and then work on improving those weaknesses.
But something else came up: We analyzed the feedback assessments of hundreds of leaders who had been evaluated on 17 core competencies. It turned out that only 21 percent of the leaders had one or more of the competencies rated as a weakness. As we reviewed other data sets from 360-degree feedback surveys, it appeared that the percentage of leaders with a weakness in one of the core competencies ranges from about 12 percent to 25 percent. After reviewing thousands of 360-degree feedback reports, we found that, although some people receive strong negative data, the majority of feedback assessments with negative items might be more accurately ...