Why is it that ...?
Many HR, L&D and OD professionals insist on referring to individuals' weaknesses as "development needs." Perhaps this euphemism is meant to make people feel better and less threatened. Perhaps it is an attempt to avoid giving people what is misguidedly seen as 'bad news'.
In any event, this does little to raise people's self-awareness. And it perpetuates the myth that a weakness is necessarily something that needs to be got rid of if people are to excel and performance is to be raised. As Peter Drucker said, nobody is strong in every area - "where there are peaks there are valleys." Perhaps most damagingly, though, it shifts the emphasis away from building on people's strengths and places the focus instead on eliminating their perceived weaknesses.
People working in organizations are complex beings engaged in complex processes of interaction. What constitutes a strength or a weakness is individual-, relationship- and context-specific. And what might be seen in isolation as an individual weakness could bring strength-like qualities to the process as a whole. It's probably too mechanistic an analogy to use, but the fact that the fuses in an electrical circuit are 'weaker' that the other components (ie designed to fail under adverse conditions) makes the overall system stronger.
Refocusing development needs
An individual's "development needs" should therefore be focused on:
- understanding the context within which they are currently working, including making sense of emerging challenges as they and the organization move forward;
- gaining greater self-awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses in relation to this changing context;
- making full use of their current strengths and developing these as appropriate, to maximise their contribution to the organization's success and to realise their own potential;
- ensuring that their inevitable weaknesses are expressed in ways that support - or at least don't undermine - the full expression and impact of their own and others' strengths;
- equally ensuring that they don't overplay their strengths to the extent that these become dysfunctional (eg self-confidence turning into arrogance).