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SIOP Member Says Weaknesses Are Really Strengths  

by Stephany Schings, Communications Specialist 

Most people assume that the things they are good at are strengths and the things they are bad at are weaknesses.

But SIOP member Tommy Thomas believes all weaknesses can be strengths—it’s just a matter of how you define strength.

Often people are taught that their weaknesses should be minimized and hidden. However,  Thomas explained, this teaches people that in order to be successful and happy, they only need to use half of themselves—their strengths. Instead, Thomas says strengths can be redefined.

To Thomas, any way a person thinks, feels, or acts can be considered a strength. Thomas structures his framework of thinking in three pairs of general opposite strengths: thinking versus risking; practical thinking versus theoretical thinking; and dependent risking versus independent risking.

Thomas says people should think of themselves in terms of having these opposite strengths instead of having a strength and a weakness. For example, instead of thinking your strength is risking and your weakness is thinking, Thomas said, think of both as strengths and work on your ability to think before you risk.

By changing your weaknesses into strengths, you have twice as many strengths, Thomas explained.

 “Certain things you do naturally well and certain things you can learn to do well,” he added. “The real detriment to people is when you place a higher value on one strength over another, because the most effective people are the ones that are able to use all of their strengths.”

The original idea for Thomas’ framework came from his father, he said. In the 1950s, his father became one of the first executive coaches and began a company to analyze the idea of people’s strengths.

“He wanted to answer the questions, ‘how do people grow and how do organizations grow?’” Thomas said.

By the 1970s, Thomas joined his father’s practice and the two changed the company’s name to Thomas Concept, where he is currently the CEO. At Thomas Concept, Thomas works with companies to coach and sustain the success of CEOs.

“Most executive coaches use a model of strengths and weakness,” Thomas explained. “They tell you to reinforce your strengths and diminish you weaknesses by delegating those tasks that require you to use your weakness. When you do that you delegate away half of your strengths.”

The alternative to creating a strengths and weaknesses mindset is a framework of strengths and strength, Thomas said.

 “To grow as a person you have to grow all six strengths,” he explained. “For example, really effective people need to be very realistic and very practical, but also very vision oriented.”

One success story is of a CEO Thomas worked with at a small manufacturing company.

“This CEO led with risking and worked with a sales manager who also led with risking,” Thomas said. “They planned to get a huge government contract, and they won the contract but they had no idea how to fulfill it. So when they had to go out and get more materials they didn’t have, they actually started losing money on the deal.”

The solution to the problem was not more doing or more purchase of materials, Thomas said. It was more of the opposite—thinking.

“They took a day off and figured out a way to subcontract someone else to do the work, and they accomplished the task,” Thomas said. “While risking was both of their natural strengths, once they worked on the thinking strength, they were able to accomplish more and be successful.”

Another example of a client who ignored opposite strengths came from a person in upper management at a publishing company.

“This person led in independent risking,” Thomas explained. “It was difficult for her to develop casual relationships, her door was always closed, and she appeared standoffish. She saw herself as someone who couldn’t be dependent.”

After Thomas taught her to use her opposite strength, the problems subsided.

“I told her to take a few minutes every day to talk to her subordinates, and she made a point of doing so. She said it wasn’t bad at all, and what she learned was that she created loyalty with people she worked with.”

Occasional success can come from using the strength that comes easily to a person, Thomas explained. But sustained success comes from using opposite strengths in tandem.

Of all six strengths, Thomas said dependent risking—or the ability to delegate to and trust others—is one of the most problematic in Americans he coaches.

“Dependent risking is the term that we have the most problems accepting,” he said. “It’s the skill and the strength of delegating that a lot of CEO’s don’t know how to do. A lot of them don’t know how to delegate and trust. Most people associate dependent risking with being unable to be independent.”

Cultural differences do exist, he said.

“American culture values risking, practical thinking and independent risking,” he explained. “When you put those together, you sort of get the John Wayne figure. But in a country like Japan, dependent risking is more valued.”

How can a person know if they are only using one set of strengths? That’s simple, Thomas said:

“Pain. Maybe they would be fired, or maybe they would get a bad evaluation or the company would go downhill. They may not know what it is, they may not know who the source is, but it would be some sort of pain that would signal that they are polarized and need to balance their strengths.”

***

Tommy Thomas, PhD is chief executive officer of Thomas Concept and is co-founder and director of the Foundation for Research on Opposite Strengths Psychology.  Dr. Thomas holds a doctorate in psychometrics and research design from The University of Texas at Austin. Dr Thomas' publications include numerous books, seminar workbooks, training manuals, professional psychological reports, Web sites, computer programs, and computer algorithms. He is a licensed psychologist in the state of Texas, and in addition to his membership in the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, he is also a member of the American Psychological Association, the Society of Consulting Psychologists, and the Institute of Management Consultants.