“The Third Key: Focus on Strengths” (Chapter 5)


In this week’s reflection of “First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently” by Buckingham and Coffman, we are going to discuss the importance or focusing on strengths and spending time with your best employees.


Each person is different and possesses a unique set of talents. Great managers focus on each person’s strengths and manages around his weaknesses. Don’t try to perfect each person into who you want them to be. Instead, do everything you can to help each person cultivate his talents and become more of who he already is.


“You will have to manage around the weaknesses of each and every employee. But if, with one particular employee, you find yourself spending most of your time managing around weaknesses, then know that you have made a casting error. At this point, it is time to fix the casting error and to stop trying to fix the person.”


The authors bring up the point that a common false narrative exists around the belief that everyone has this unlimited potential to be the best at whatever we want to be. If you overcome fears and strengthen your weaknesses, then you are on your way to maximizing your potential. However, great managers don’t fall into this way of thinking. They believe that if everyone truly has the same potential, then we lose our individuality.


Great managers don’t agree with focusing on and defining an employee by his weaknesses. Let him be defined by his strengths. Provide your employees with self-confidence and they will be more likely to find ways to work around weaknesses. In this book, there are three possible routes defined for helping someone to navigate a weakness: “Devise a support system. Find a complementary partner. Or find an alternative role.”


Great managers also believe that you will become frustrated if you waste your time trying to turn non-talents into talents. Now that is not to say persistence is always a waste of time. It is beneficial when learning a new skill or acquiring new knowledge, just not when dealing with talents. The authors describe less effective managers as being “blind to the distinction between skills and knowledge – both of which can be acquired – and talents – which cannot.” These managers are setting employees up for failure and discouragement when they tell them that if they work hard enough, they can transform non-talents into talents.


“Spend time with your best people.” Another topic brought up in this chapter that really got me thinking in a different way than I had before.


I had never really thought much about this topic until reading this chapter. The authors point out that many managers revert to spending so much time focusing on their “strugglers” or less productive employees and not nearly enough time with their most productive employees. At first, you may think this makes sense. However, the argument made by the authors is that everyone responds well to attention. If you ignore your best because you don’t have to worry about them messing up, then over time you run the risk of them becoming complacent and potentially doing less. Give them the attention they deserve and help them to become even better at what they already excel at. Still make time to help the “strugglers,” but show them that the harder they work, the more attention and recognition they will receive. You can’t spend all of your time holding the hands of those who prove to be less productive. At the end of the day, if a struggler can’t find the self-motivation or discipline to want to become better, then are they really the right person to have on your team?


Another benefit to spending more time with your best employees is that you can learn what they are doing to be the most productive. If you can establish what the best internal practices are within your organization, then you can communicate those best practices with the less productive employees in order to help them improve.


Now, although the authors push the importance of spending more time with their best employees, they don’t discount the importance of helping and guiding their other employees. Great managers still have to find ways to bring the best out of everyone on their team. They just wanted to emphasize the point of spending more time with the best as this is often overlooked by many managers. It is easy to get caught up trying to lift up the under performers and unintentionally ignore the overachievers. Great managers are able to praise and learn from the best so that they can provide more valuable assistance to the “strugglers.”

6 thoughts on “Focus on Strengths, Spend Time with Your Best

  1. Andreius Harding says:


    I like this topic a lot. It is very important to know ones weaknesses and devise a work around. When looking at the part about the “strugglers”, I agree that a manager shouldn’t spend all their time on them while ignoring the top performers. It can become a challenge for managers to work with those who struggle, find their strengths, and develop a way to work around their weakness, while applying these skills to meet the businesses goals. This task can easily have managers spend less time with the top performers. Finding that balance is key and should be a necessary skill for any manager. Thanks for sharing this great post and I look forward to the next.


  2. Katie Moore says:


    My wheels were turning when reading this. I reflected on how I have managed and lead employees but also how my previous and current supervisors manage their employees. A few things stuck out to me that I will need to keep in mind:

    1. Don’t solely focus on the “strugglers.” While they do need some additional support time to time, we must value all employees and continue to develop those that are succeeding.
    2. Focus more on employees strengths than weaknesses (or fix the casting error). I think we all get stuck in an area where we are always focused on “how do we improve the weakness” without allowing our strengths to be seen and flourish. I am certainly guilty of this and will need to keep this in mind when leading others.

    Looking forward to your next post!

    Katie M.

  3. Zach,
    You made an excellent point in your post this week, and it is something that I have seen in my personal experience as a manager. You wrote that a good manager should “do everything you can to help each person cultivate his talents and become more of who he already is.” You can’t mold someone into something they are not, or something they aren’t willing to fight to become themselves. It doesn’t work. Period. No matter how hard you try. A good manager may have the best of intentions but at some point you have to consider is the effort you are putting in being reciprocated? Does this person want to be what you are working towards? Is it really possible? Are your efforts best used elsewhere? Maybe they aren’t suited for the role and should try something else. Thank you for pointing this out.

  4. Hi Zach,

    Interesting blog post and very enlightening. I can certainly see the advantages of building on someone’s strengths rather than weaknesses. As entrepreneurs, many of us will do well to remember what it was like to be employees and what needs or fears might exist for them.

    By focusing on their strengths, not only can it give you better insight into how to best channel their talents for your business, but also it will create a more reciprocal relationship that is focused on the success of all parties involved. Some people are born with innate talents that are just waiting to be discovered, so spending time with your employees and cultivating their talents is very wise. It is a unique way to look at employment and one I have not encountered before.



  5. I can speak from personal experience that all managers are not built the same and each one brings their own strengths/weaknesses to the work force. I whole heartedly believe managers must not only manage the skills their employees bring to the table, but create an atmosphere that nurtures their talents. Another perspective that your post helped me unearth was how should i nurture employees who may not have as many talents afforded to them as others, which can cause dissent. Imagine if one employee performs like Lebron James and is killing it while the other performs like Draymond Green, but feels they deserve more recognition. Managers must tote the line in nurturing those who underperform and help bring them to a level where they can grow and reach their maximum potential. As an entrepreneur, i will seek to invest my time equally into my employees and identify the right team players.

  6. Hey Zach,

    This brings up a good point to not only focus and spend energy on what you are great at but also to do the same for the “A” and “B” players on your team. I have seen what leaders learn is effective from their top players is what spreads in the environment to help upcoming new employees get to the next level.

    Time is the most important thing we have in business sometimes, so I would agree to not waste time trying to turn a nontalent situation into talent and to focus on spending time on strengths for the business. All things considered, we have to be sure to not completely ignore “C” players and certain weaknesses that deserve attention so that we as you said bring out the best in the team and all areas of the business.


    Stokes Warren

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