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Positive leaders understand the importance of creating conditions where individuals and team can do their best work and achieve their full potential. They see people not as resources or assets, but as key value-multipliers of the business.
They understand the importance of meeting 4 key needs of employees so that they can thrive at work. Starting at the base of the pyramid below, let’s look at each in turn:

Level 1: Physical and Psychological Safety

People require conditions where they feel safe, not just physically, but also psychologically. This means that they should feel the company cares about them and will minimize the risks of any harm to them, including emotional and mental suffering. The concept of psychological safety is becoming more popular now than when it was first coined in the 90s due to increased work pressures and the dizzying pace of change.
Having a workplace that is psychologically safe means that people feel able to show up at work every day without being embarrassed, marginalized, bullied, or unfairly disciplined. However, it also means that people are free to express their thoughts and emotions at work without worrying that they will be harshly judged or face other adverse consequences. People want to feel that they can count on their leader to look out for them and provide support, especially when tough problems arise that overwhelm them and lead to significant distress.

Steps leaders can take:

  1. Introduce a wellbeing strategy to ensure health and safety addresses mental and psychological, as well as physical safety.
  2. Ensure the company has clear policies to tackle bullying, victimisation, harassment, overuse of authority and other inappropriate conduct.
  3. Set up a safe helpline for people to use to report any unacceptable behaviour to an independent professional such as HR or a H&S specialist.
  4. Ensure you show empathy and compassion when people are experiencing mental distress or anxiety. Listen carefully and do not pass judgement or dish out lots of advice. Rather, ensure they know you have heard them and understand how they are feeling. Let them know they can count on your support and invite them to speak to HR, a counselling service or the company’s Employee Assistance Program helpline (if you have an EAP in place).

Level 2: Belonging

Everyone has a deep desire for belonging, at work and outside. They want to feel they are a valued part of their community or ‘tribe’, regardless of their background or differences. Belonging goes beyond acceptance and inclusion of diverse people, personalities, and perspectives. It involves giving people a voice in how their work is accomplished and in shaping the future of the team and organization.

Steps leaders can take:

  1. Build a team culture where people feel differences are appreciated, actively encouraged and respected.
  2. Learn to be more conscious about your biases. Tackle these head on by confronting erroneous and limiting assumptions and beliefs and getting to know people from backgrounds you are less familiar or comfortable with.
  3. Ensure everyone in your team has a voice during meetings, especially those who are more reserved or lacking confidence. One way of doing this is to bookend the start of regular team meetings with a 45-60 second update from everyone on their achievements the previous week. Similarly, we suggest you bookend the close of the meeting with a 45-60 second close-out on the most important action or reflection they are taking from the meeting.
  4. Ensure you build time for social activities where people can get to know one another better and deepen their connections. Ensure team socials and team building activities do not exclude people or make them feel inadequate based on their physical strength, age, religion, diet or other differences.

Level 3: Achievement

Most people have a deep drive for achievement and success. They want to do well and achieve their goals and personal development aspirations. They want to feel they are empowered to act and supported to be at their best.

Steps leaders can take:

  1. Find out what people’s aspirations and dreams are. Try to align these with the organisation’s tasks and goals.
  2. Set ambitious goals for people and show you believe in them. Positive belief goes a long way to motivate people, as was well illustrated in the famous classics, “Pygmalion” and “My Fair Lady”, a storyline that has been repeated in numerous modern movies for good reason. Research has consistently shown that when leaders regularly express their positive beliefs in team members talents and potential, performance is significantly improved.
  3. Provide regular encouragement and praise when you spot people doing good work. Apply the principle of “marginal gains” used in Olympic coaching by recognising not only big achievements, but also smaller improvements in effort and results. Remember that small shift in performance often lead to big leaps in performance over time.
  4. Provide regular and constructive performance feedback. This involves being honest, specific and helping the person understand what “great” looks like. Our AIM Feedback Process™ will help you improve the effectiveness of your feedback.

Level 4: Growth

People have an innate desire to learn and realize their full potential. They want to grow both personally and professionally.

Steps leaders can take:

  1. Provide coaching and development opportunities in line with people’s aspirations, strengths and improvement areas.
  2. Set up cross-team peer coaching and development groups to enable people to learn from one another and build connections beyond their immediate team or business area.
  3. Encourage people to adapt themselves and lean into the future by learning vital new skills like influencing, AI, empathy and curiosity, to ensure they are fit for tomorrow’s as well as today’s challenges.
  4. Cultivate a learning culture – one where everyone is expected to be open-minded and curious, own their learning, share ideas and insights and experiment with new and improved ways of working. Investing in your own learning and development is crucial as people won’t be as motivated to spend time developing themselves unless they see their leader and peers taking learning seriously.


Provided the company has a well-defined purpose and strategy, peak performance comes about when leaders hire talented people and provide them with the right conditions where they can do their best work while at the same time fulfilling their key needs. Positive leaders understand the importance of creating a climate where people can thrive at work by taking practical steps to improve their sense of safety, belonging, achievement and growth.

Organizations are increasingly helping their employees discover, develop, and deploy their talents more effectively to achieve greater performance, motivation, teamwork, and retention. This reflects a significant shift in mindset from a deficit-weakness talent management focus to a more positive, strengths-based one. However, the prescription is incomplete. Helping people to discover and use their talents more does typically drive better workforce outcomes, but it may also backfire in some instances. This is because of the dualistic nature of human talents. Just like jet engines, people’s natural talents harbour tremendous power to create positive energy and propel us forward towards our performance and career goals. However, they can also lead to unintended consequences or even complete failure when overused. 

What are overused talents?

We define overused talents as talents (or a combination of talents) that are over-used or used in excess, resulting in negative outcomes. Overused talents can be seen as weaknesses by others and lead to poor results, damaged relationships, and career derailment. Studies show that more people experience performance shortfalls and derail in their career because of overused talents rather than more obvious competency weaknesses. For example, when effectively applied, my Boldness talent (which has been hugely instrumental in my career success) means I take on risks and am prepared to challenge the status quo in support of new thinking and change. However, earlier in my career, I was far too eager to take on risky positions and challenged established views and assumptions head-on, without taking sufficient account of the audience and history. This behaviour was sometimes perceived as overpowering and overly challenging by others. One of my greatest talents was being overused and became a potential derailer. Through greater self-awareness of the risks associated with my Boldness talent, I have been able to apply it more skillfully.  

What gives rise to overused talents? 

There are a variety of internal and external factors that can cause people to overuse their talents including:

It is important to help people pinpoint specific triggers leading to limiting behaviours associated with overused talents, so they are more conscious of these underlying causes. By raising awareness of these triggers and how to replace unproductive habits with more effective ones, you can empower people to use their talents and skills more effectively.    

Why is it so important to tackle overused talents?

There are numerous benefits that arise when employees are more aware of their overused talents. Some of the most important include:

  1. When people are more aware of limiting behaviours associated with overused talents, they are empowered and motivated to improve their performance. They recognise that what they may have seen as fundamental character flaws or weaknesses are their natural talents that are being used ineffectively. This results in a more positive and open approach to learning and growth, giving rise to deeper and more meaningful changes in their behaviour.   
  2. People are more open to constructive and critical feedback when it is framed in the ‘language’ of overused talents. Tough feedback about weaknesses can elicit a whole range of defensive responses, especially from perfectionists and people with strong egos. I am not suggesting that conversations should be dishonest or should never broach the topic of weaker areas. However, as research has shown, the reality is that many examples or poor performance stem from overused talents.
  3. A focus on talents (and overused talents) within a team encourages a more appreciative and tolerant team willing to accept individual uniqueness and vulnerability. It helps team members recognize that all people tend to overuse their talents on occasion. For example, rather than seeing a person who is strong on precision or detail as “stuck in the weeds”, they will have a better understanding that this is simply the less desirable behaviours of the overused Precision talent. This empowers them to provide feedback to the person to dial back on their Precision when a more strategic perspective is called for. 

Raising awareness of overused talents 

The first step in managing and mitigating overused talents is to raise awareness of the limiting behaviours and impact of these, for the person, their team, and the organization. As a starting point, we typically encourage people to assess their talents and overused talents using a scientifically validated talent assessment like TalentPredix™ which can pinpoint specific behaviours that are most likely to limit effective performance. Once people have a good understanding of their talents and associated limiting behaviours, they can become more intentional and conscious about using their talents more selectively and effectively. 

Matching your talents to the needs of the situation

At TalentPredix™, we have found that for talents to be fully optimized and regarded as “strengths”, people need to develop the skill and adaptability to use their talents effectively across a range of situations. This can be expressed as:

Optimized talents = f (talents X skills X adaptability)

Using blended learning solutions, including assessment, facilitated workshops, and coaching, we work with employees to help them develop specific strategies and techniques to match their talents to the requirements of the situation. Some of these techniques include:

To ensure ongoing growth and positive change, we encourage people to invite regular feedback from their co-workers and other key stakeholders across different performance contexts. This ensures that the necessary adjustments can be made in the same way that a pilot needs constant feedback on environmental factors such as wind speed, weather conditions, air traffic, etc. to make safe and effective decisions about how best to fly their plane.  

To unleash the full potential of your people and empower them to achieve their goals, it is crucial that they understand how to apply their talents most effectively across different situations. It is equally important they understand and actively mitigate the limiting effects of their overused talents. With this holistic awareness, they can use their talents in a more conscious, careful, and competent way, enabling them to thrive at work and deliver extraordinary results.  

Please click here to get more information about TalentPredix™ and how to tackle overused talents.

Peter Drucker, often referred to as the “father of modern management”, claimed it is extremely difficult to measure potential. This is particularly true in the fast-changing world we now find ourselves in. However, there are numerous advantages to spotting and developing high potential leaders. Some of these include a stronger talent pipeline, filling more key positions with internal hires, better retention and improved progression of minorities and underrepresented groups.  So, what exactly is potential, and can it be accurately assessed? 

Leadership potential is the future performance a person is likely to achieve in a leadership role. It is a prediction of their future performance trajectory. And therein lies the major challenge – a person’s potential is dependent on a wide range of internal and external factors so measuring it is extremely difficult and prone to error. For example, factors such as career motivations, values, life changes, the presence of a mentor or sponsor, and culture fit can significantly impact a person’s potential to succeed in a leadership role. 

Most organizations use very crude and unscientific methods to spot and assess leadership potential. Some still place a disproportionally high emphasis on educational factors, favouring those from top universities or candidates with advanced business degrees when looking to hire new leaders or promote high potentials into leadership roles. In addition to the obvious biases that occur from such strategies, educational attainment and qualifications alone are generally unreliable predictors of leadership potential. They focus too narrowly on analytical intelligence and don’t consider other abilities that are better predictors of leadership success such as adaptability, perseverance, social and emotional intelligence and creative problem-solving. Other organizations promote their best technical and functional experts into leadership roles. However, there is a big difference between the abilities, behaviours, and motivations of technical and functional experts and those required to be an effective leader. As a result, this strategy often results in costly failures, including demoralised teams, unwanted turnover of talented individual contributors and performance shortfalls.   

Many organizations have adopted the well-known “9-Box Grid” to allocate talent into categories based on managers’ evaluations of performance and potential. However, many organizations never spend time defining what is meant by “potential” so measurement remains highly subjective and prone to all types of biases. Many companies also don’t stretch and develop people once they’ve been assigned a “high potential” rating. Therefore, this exercise never moves beyond a subjective rating process and does little to help the business spot, develop and retain talent. Another problem that often arises is that due to a lack of scrutiny and calibration of senior leaders’ ratings by Human Resources, the process does little to challenge old assumptions and stereotypes about what makes a good leader in the company. This can undermine opportunities to consider new and emerging leadership talents and qualities that are vital in the new world of work. It can also obstruct the progress of under-represented and minority groups into key leadership roles.     

Organizations can avoid some of these problems by putting in place a more scientific and objective process for assessing leadership potential based on the following 4 principles:

Measure their performance track record  

Many senior executives still favour traditional leadership traits like assertion, charisma and an outgoing style when looking for future leaders. However, there is little evidence that these characteristics are associated with good leadership, particularly in today’s fast-changing and complex world. In fact, they can lead to the appointment of narcissistic, self-serving and autocratic leaders who achieve short-term results at the expense of long-term sustainable growth and development of key talent. 

A far more effective approach is to measure the ability of high-potential managers and leaders to positively influence and coach others, their learning agility, and their skill in building high-performing teams that deliver great results. It is often the humble and curious grafters who show a real talent for building teams and getting the best out of others that are far more effective in leadership roles.  

To ensure a more objective measurement of current performance in these areas, companies should identify and regularly assess softer leadership behaviours as well as harder measures of performance. They should also provide opportunities for top leaders to come together at least twice a year to systematically evaluate the potential of high-potential candidates using a rigorous process to discuss and calibrate evaluations. To ensure this is a fair and objective process, we strongly recommend it is facilitated by a trained HR or external facilitator.

Apply work samples to supplement interviews and traditional tests

Despite exaggerated claims from many consultants and business psychologists, commonly used assessment methods (including personality and aptitude tests) are not a panacea as they are far less accurate in predicting future potential than in predicting performance in the short term. 

However, research provides promising findings that personality factors like high conscientiousness, openness to learning, resilience and emotional self-regulation do predict better leadership performance. Similarly, people who can think more analytically, creatively, and strategically often perform better as leaders. Therefore, well-established personality and aptitude tests should remain an important part of our toolkit to measure the potential of future leaders as they add incremental validity to objective, well-structured interviews. 

To strengthen measurement accuracy, companies should go beyond traditional tests and structured interviews, using well-designed work samples and simulations. As a result of advancements in technology (including machine learning and gamification) and behavioural sciences, the solutions on offer have never been greater. More commonly used work samples include situational judgement tests, role plays, analysis exercises, scenario challenges and strategy discussions. All these will provide you with additional insights on how future leaders are likely to handle the typical challenges and dilemmas of a leadership role.  

Give them stretch assignments 

This is one of the best ways to test potential as it provides a high potential leader/emerging leader with an opportunity to assume responsibility for challenging leadership tasks on a trial basis to see how they perform under pressure. Despite the benefits of this approach, it is often underutilized or poorly implemented. Common implementation problems include risk-averse cultures and lack of adequate delegation, inadequate coaching and mentoring and poor design and application of criteria to evaluate performance resulting in subjectivity and unconscious bias. 

Stretch projects can be team-based or individual. We typically recommend the former as these enable potential leaders to collaborate with team members and other stakeholders to overcome real business dilemmas and challenges. This enables HR and senior leaders to evaluate high potentials’ teamwork, joint problem solving, influencing and emotional intelligence, as well as their individual contribution. 

Peer feedback 

Although there is mixed evidence about the effectiveness of multi-rater feedback surveys, a robust peer feedback approach should be considered in the mix of approaches used by companies to assess potential for leadership roles. Such surveys also improve leaders’ self-awareness and self-improvement by providing valuable feedback about their strengths, potential weaker areas and ‘blind spots’ that might derail their progress. If you decide to use a multi-rater or 360-degree survey, we strongly recommend this is designed by behavioural scientists who can ensure it is well-constructed and measures behaviours that are relevant to success in leadership roles within your company. 

It is extremely tough to accurately measure the potential of future leaders and any consultant who claims otherwise is misleading you. However, this does not mean that it isn’t worth the investment to bring more rigour and science to the discovery and development of your future leaders. By combining some of the techniques outlined above, you can ensure you improve the accuracy and consistency of your assessments while at the same time providing leaders/future leaders with meaningful development opportunities. 

Most of us understand the value of personal reflection and renewal moving into a new year. Like me, I’m sure everyone hopes this year will mark the end of the pandemic stage of Covid so we can get back to whatever the new normal looks like. Although there are many factors like Covid that we can’t control, what we can control is the way we manage our energy and psychological health in response to setbacks and struggles we encounter, including the choices we make and the type of mindset we adopt. 

Many of you will have got into the habit of setting goals and resolutions at the start of each year. However, most people don’t apply the same discipline when it comes to managing their energy and psychological health. Yet, these are arguably the most important drivers of our long-term happiness and success. Managing our energy and psychological health provides the positive ‘fuel’ to help us achieve our career and life goals. It can also make us more resilient, adaptable, optimistic, and self-confident. 

Here are 7 keys to help improve your emotional and psychological health for the coming year and set you up for your best year yet.

1. Discover your purpose and stick to it 

People who discover their purpose and stay true to it are far more likely to be committed and engaged at work. They find deeper meaning in their work and have a clearer vision of what they want to achieve. This instills a deep sense of commitment and enables them to focus their skills and talents on what they are most passionate about. Studies show that when people have a clear and meaningful purpose and apply their natural talents to work towards this, they are far more likely to enjoy work, perform better and achieve greater career success.

2. Master your mindset

All of us will experience setbacks and difficulties during the year, although the nature and emotional intensity of these will vary significantly. Never allow yourself to become a victim of negative thinking and adverse circumstances. If you do, you’ll soon enter a vicious cycle of low self-confidence, pessimism, helplessness, and eventually depression. Remember that you are free to choose your mindset and how you respond to any situation, no matter how difficult. 

Even in the darkest moments when nothing seems to be going right, we have the power to find a positive way forward and not to be defined by setbacks, mistakes and adverse circumstances. We can all learn from the great wisdom of Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, who pointed out in his bestselling book, Man’s Search for Meaning:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” 

3. Challenge your inner critic 

All of us have an inner critic, even the most outwardly confident and successful celebrities, leaders, and entrepreneurs. But some learn to control these inner gremlins effectively while others find themselves overwhelmed by them. 

Don’t let your inner critic – limiting voices of self-doubt and fear – get the better of you. Listen carefully and write down the negative, limiting things you say to yourself. Treat these as if they were being said by an external person who is not fair, supportive, or rational. Challenge and question these points as if you were disputing something someone has said which is unfair or unjustified. Reframe these negative statements as positive, empowering ones. Write down these positive statements and look at them every day before work and whenever you are experiencing episodes of self-doubt or anxiety. Over time, your negative narratives will be replaced by positive ones. 

4. Choose to spend time with energy multipliers 

Research indicates that people’s emotions and mindsets are contagious. Spending time with people who are upbeat, resilient, and solutions-oriented will provide you with a positive and supportive network. Over time, this will multiply your positive energy, growth, and effectiveness, leading to greater happiness, wellbeing and performance. 

On the other hand, if you hang out mainly with negative, ‘glass half empty’ people who sap your energy and add no value then it’s likely you’ll develop a negative outlook to work and life.  It’s best not to get sucked into this vortex of negativity unless you want to spend all your time struggling through life. 

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should avoid friends and co-workers who have temporary setbacks and difficulties that cause them to experience inevitable emotional lows and difficulties. Always stick by these people and show compassion, empathy, and support to help them through their difficult patch. This builds trust, openness, and emotional closeness, all of which are pre-requisites for meaningful, satisfying and emotionally mature relationships.   

5. Declutter 

Don’t leave decluttering to the springtime. Decluttering your house and office at the start of each new year enables you to simplify your life. It will leave you feeling invigorated, unburdened, and satisfied. Studies show it can also boost your self-esteem, focus and quality of thinking. Tidying enables you to get rid of unnecessary possessions that don’t add value to your life as well as those that are associated with unhappy memories from the past. Gifting these items to a charity or person who needs them more than you will raise your spirits, as research shows that people derive happiness and joy by helping others. However, make sure you don’t go overboard and throw away possessions that have deep sentimental meaning and attachment to you, as getting rid of these might undermine rather than improve your emotional wellbeing. 

6. Focus on what’s going well 

Many people keep themselves so busy at work and home that they don’t take time to slow down and notice the good things happening in their life and around them. For example, we often fail to spot our co-workers doing great work or a friend or partner making a special effort on our behalf. Many even fail to notice and celebrate their own learning, progress, and professional achievements. They simply move on to the next thing and lose a valuable opportunity to enjoy the scenic ‘lookout points’ in their relentless quest to conquer the next peak. Take time to notice and be grateful for these special moments, however small, as this will enhance your wellbeing as well as the happiness of those around you.

7. Ditch negative news and social media 

Put yourself on a news and social media fast for a few weeks or become more selective about the types of media you consume. A lot of our traditional and online media pedal primarily negative news that gives rise to unnecessary anxiety, concerns, and worries, undermining our emotional wellbeing. The reason of course is simple – negative stories generally sell better than positive ones. 

Similarly, many social media platforms spread negative news, fake news and extreme views and opinions. This negatively biased content impacts our perspective about what is real and heightens our perceived threat level towards the world around us. Some platforms also encourage unhealthy peer-group comparisons that leave people feeling they are inferior, unsuccessful, or missing out. Taking a break from this negativity and refocusing your time on positive experiences (e.g., reading, learning a new skill or starting a new hobby) and people will enable you to build a positive and healthy mindset.    

Finally, remember that a happy life also requires a healthy diet and regular exercise so don’t forget to include these in your list of goals for 2022. Wishing you all a happy, successful, and healthy 2022.      

The best employers use a variety of creative and novel ways to attract, inspire and engage their people. Here are 21 proven ideas to get you started:

  1. Start a “lunch roulette” – encourage employees to have an in-person or virtual lunch with someone they’ve never met yet so they can get to know them better.
  2. Put in place a “bungee program” to encourage people to engage in cross-department project work and short-term assignments.
  3. Allow people to take the day off on their birthday, or if it falls on the weekend, allow them to take the Friday or Monday off instead.
  4. Introduce a generous referral program with attractive prizes as well as cash payouts for referring new candidates into the company. Most referral programs are as dull as dishwater, make them fun and engaging!
  5. Introduce a “Take 3 stretch project” program enabling employees to apply to be assigned to work on new, high-value projects for up to 3 months.
  6. Arrange an individual or team-based “moonshots program” for employees to come up with radical and creative ideas that will improve the business. Hold a “Dragon’s Den” style pitch event so top management can evaluate the ideas and award people/teams coming up with the best ideas. Award prizes to the winners and provide stretch opportunities to people to participate in implementing their ideas.
  7. Ensure that at least 80% of key vacancies are filled internally.
  8. Invite customers to in-person or virtual meetings to share their stories and explain their changing preferences and needs. Nothing beats an inspirational client story to create a more purpose-driven and customer-centric culture.
  9. Run brainstorming or brainwriting workshops or “hackathons” to promote creative thinking to overcome challenging problems or come up with new opportunities.
  10. Give employees the opportunity to ask the CEO (or another representative from the top team) any question by arranging a monthly online or in-person “Question Time with Top Management” Q&A sessions. Ensure questions are sent to a Question Time email address or WhatsApp group in advance of the session. Record the session and upload the recording on the company’s Intranet site.
  11. Arrange “lunch and learns” or “success in 60” sessions for staff where staff can share their expertise and talents in a broad range of topic areas, not just work-related skills. You’ll be amazed at how many gurus across a wide range of subject areas such as cooking, yoga, mindfulness, hiking, dog training, etc. you have in your team!
  12. Start Friday mornings (every fortnight or once a month) with a voluntary breakfast get-together. The Scandinavians have this ritual down to a fine art and it works wonders! Believe me, nothing beats coffee, a few pastries and informal conversation with your co-workers to start the day on a high note.      
  13. Arrange a simple networking evening so people across different areas of the business can get to know one another better. 
  14. Stage an internal “work fair” or “work festival” so people from different business areas can get to know one another’s work and achievements better.
  15. Host fun in-person or online “innovation labs” to encourage employees to come together to generate breakthrough ideas and solutions. 
  16. Invest in a flexible and advanced online learning solution like so employees can develop their own skills in a way that suits their schedule.
  17. Gather regular employee feedback on how they view their day to day experiences and how engaged they are using user-friendly platforms like and This will enable you to build a better culture by listening to your employees’ voice.
  18. Encourage all managers to start each team meeting with a lightening round of everyone’s successes and achievements since the last meeting. This never fails to get a meeting off to an energized start that grabs people’s attention.
  19. Start a company volunteering and social giving program. Invite employees who are most motivated about making a positive difference to get involved in co-ordinate your program. Allow them to organize volunteering and fundraising events (e.g., walks, runs, cycling events, skills-related direct support, etc.) for your chosen charity/charities. The key to the success of these programs is to build a strong partnership with your chosen charity/charities and get as many people involved as possible. Check out, a brilliant new organization that matches employees with innovative volunteering opportunities around the world.  
  20. Give your office space a refresh after the long Covid crisis. Welcome staff back by inviting them to come up with ideas to improve and redecorate their office space so it is conducive to great teamwork and productivity. Some of the best offices I’ve visited have been designed with the involvement of employees.
  21. Run career development workshops to help people plan and implement a focused and achievable career development pathway after Covid. Use a talent assessment tool like to help them discover and optimize their unique talents, career motivations and values. 

We’d love to hear about creative things your organization does or practices you’ve seen work elsewhere, to add to this list. Please share your ideas and comments with us and we’ll circulate these so everyone can cultivate better, more positive and fun workplaces.

Every candidate knows they are going to be asked about their weaknesses. Yet, this line of questioning still provokes deep fear and anxiety for many. They are unsure of how to respond well without exposing their deepest vulnerabilities or coming across as inauthentic. Below are some tips to help you ace this question, ensuring it doesn’t undermine your chances of securing the position.    

Be straightforward 

Don’t be caught off guard or act surprised by this question. I have interviewed dozens of job candidates over several decades and the worst examples of this I have seen is when people say something like “I can’t think of any” or “Ummm, now let me think… I can’t recall anything specific off the top of my head.” My alternative tip is to prepare for the question and to answer it in a straightforward, authentic, and assured way. Remember that everyone has vulnerabilities and weaker areas so you don’t need to “act surprised” or even worse, beat around the bush or try to water down your response.

Be honest and specific

One of the traps people often fall into is to be dishonest or vague about their weaknesses. They use clichés like “I don’t spend enough time on my self-development” or “I’m a real perfectionist” to disguise their real performance risks. Instead, be specific and totally honest about your one or two biggest performance risks and explain to the interviewer how you’ve learnt to mitigate these risks offering several examples by way of illustration. The interviewer will value your self-awareness and honesty which is what most interviewers are looking for. You will also avoid getting bogged down in the traps of being guarded, vague or defensive or even worse, telling ever-bigger lies to cover up if a savvy interviewer decides to probe your response.

Talk about your overused talents  

When your greatest talents are overused, they can lead to unintended negative consequences that undermine your performance and relationships. They also become viewed as weaknesses by co-workers and others around you. Recent studies show that overused talents and strengths are a greater source of performance problems for people than more obvious weaknesses and shortfalls in competence. For example, when overused, understanding others and empathy can become overinvolvement, positivity can become overbearing excitement, creativity can become idea overload and decisiveness can become recklessness. By being aware of your overused talents and sharing these with the interviewer in response to the weakness question, you will be showing excellent self-awareness. Tell the interviewer how you’ve learned to recognise the situational triggers of these overused behaviours and mitigate any negative risks associated with them. This conveys excellent self-awareness and should impress most interviewers who may not even have this level of insight themselves.

Final tips to prepare for this question

  1. Before the interview, write down the one or two biggest performance risks that show up for you. Don’t just think about your obvious weaker areas, think about your overused talents too. 
  2. Now write down the impact of these risks – for you, the team, and the organization. Think about how these risks are perceived by your co-workers and other stakeholders as you can use this insight to demonstrate you have good self-awareness during the interview.
  3. Finally, write down next to each what you’re learning and doing to improve or mitigate each weakness or performance risk.
  4. Go through what you’ve written a number of times before the interview, and you’ll nail the “what are your greatest weaknesses” question in the interview.   

Most medium and large organizations use psychological assessment tests (incl. ability and personality testing), principally for hiring, and this figure is expected to climb to almost 90% in the coming years (Chamorro-Premuzic, 2015). Using assessment techniques to support talent development and organizational change applications (e.g., to support reskilling in response to the digitization of work) is also increasingly common. Work-based assessments provide more objective data to inform key talent management decisions and if applied professionally, can help reduce subjectivity and a multitude of human biases in hiring, development, succession planning and other critical HR processes. 

Rapid technological advances, changing client requirements and a more digitally curious HR profession means that the range of work-related assessments on offer is growing faster than ever. This is long overdue. Many assessments are decades old and have changed very little since the last century. Using them is equivalent to using a legacy mainframe to calculate your household budget rather than using the latest app on your smartphone or tablet. Yet it is not just about embracing innovative new technologies in assessment like gamification and machine-learning. The fundamental assumptions and models we use to assess and make important decisions about people’s futures need to shift significantly too. 

Assessing and amplifying people’s individuality and uniqueness 

Assessments measuring personality still tend to describe and measure human abilities and behaviour in imprecise, limiting ways. For example, many widely used personality profiles pigeonhole people into broad, oversimplified personality types, categories and even colours. This view of human behaviour at work is seductively simple and although such over-generalized personality typing can be helpful in giving organizations a basic understanding of how people approach tasks and relate to others, their value is limited and can be counterproductive. 

In a world that increasingly recognizes the importance of discovering and leveraging diversity, they promote narrow thinking and stereotyping about people. They fail to reflect the countless unique differences that make us who we are, including the talents, values, and motivations we leverage to do our best work. Even when people have similar personality traits, the way they use these depends on their goals, motivations, values, and the way they interpret and respond to different situations. 

The younger generations entering the workplace want their individuality and unique talents to be valued, appreciated, and developed from the get-go. Any assessment that labels or pigeon-holes them too narrowly can quickly undermine their sense of identity, value, and psychological connection with the organization.

Many traditional assessments that are still commonly used today are unlikely to stand the test of time. To future-proof their organization and achieve better talent outcomes, HR leaders and professionals need to evaluate the rigour and relevance and of their current assessment tools, including how well they are predicting performance and promoting a diverse, inclusive workplace. Those based on outdated thinking and questionable science should be replaced with scientifically validated, up-to-date tools that pinpoint people’s unique and diverse talents, abilities motivations and values.

Further reading 

Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2015). Ace the Assessment. Harvard Business Review, July-August.

Based on decades of experience working with leaders, it is clear to me that many of the best are critical thinkers. Their ability to logically analyse information and evaluate problems to reach effective, well-reasoned decisions is vital for any business. 

When they’re in the zone, critically-minded leaders are quick to spot problems and gaps, identify potential gaps and risks in solutions and are very effective in playing “devil’s advocate” by pointing out gaps, problems and weaknesses when evaluating data and solving problems.

However, when used in excess, critical thinking can result in the following problematic behaviours for leaders:

However, there are a variety of techniques critically-minded leaders can apply to avoid these risks.  Based on my coaching work with this type of leaders, these are the most effective:

Identifying situational triggers for the overused behaviours

Leaders develop deeply ingrained habits and ways of approaching and handling tasks and decisions based on what’s worked for them in the past. These habits are developed over many years and are often very difficult to change. However, by becoming more self-aware of what triggers overused behaviours, critically-minded leaders can learn to monitor how they are using their critical thinking skills across different situations and the impact they are having on others. For example, periods of intense stress and pressure can often amplify overused behaviours. Similarly, they may be triggered by overly optimistic or positive people. Through practising “dialling up” and “dialling down” their critical thinking, they can adjust their behaviour to the needs of the situation and minimize the risk of overdrive behaviours showing up. 

Using signposting to clarify expectations 

Critically minded leaders are often misunderstood by others as being overly critical or negative, especially when the team is made up of positive and creative thinkers. By signposting their intentions to the team more clearly, critical leaders will be better understood and trusted to play a complementary role that brings value to the group. There are various ways leaders can signpost their intentions up front, however, the easiest is to say something along the lines of: “Are you ok if I play devil’s advocate during this meeting?” or “I’m happy to flush out issues and problems as we work through these options if everyone’s ok with that.”    

Effective questioning skills

In coaching critically-minded leaders over several decades, some of my greatest breakthroughs have occurred by helping leaders to understand how to shift the way they use their critical thinking talent from presenting arguments and objections to posing powerful questions. Critical thinkers typically ask themselves tough questions about the data or options in front of them but don’t always verbalise these questions. By communicating and inviting others to reflect on these open questions with them, they can enrich the conversation, promote better scrutiny of the data, and broaden the team’s conversation about potential options, risks, and decision criteria.   

Creating space for creative problem-solving

Leaders who are critical thinkers need to learn to make space for creative thinkers to have a voice and apply their talents, especially when creative problem-solving is called for to tackle complex problems or promote more innovation. This requires consciously “dialling back” on their tendency to find fault with ideas and solutions to allow sufficient time and space for creative thinking. They can either call on the natural creatives in the team to lead a brainstorming or brainwriting session or they can do this themselves. We recommend the former as this will provide creatives with an opportunity to shine and optimize their talents. Leaders can also make greater use of established divergent thinking techniques such as the POINT method when problem-solving. This encourages people to first look at the Pluses and Opportunities associated with ideas and alternatives in advance of issues and problems. The second step is to encourage the team to raise Issues as problem questions rather than simply stating the issues, as questions invite divergent and creative thinking. Finally, the team explores New Thinking to tackle problem questions that have been raised and discussed.

When leaders overuse their critical thinking talents, their overwhelming critique, negativity, and problem-spotting can easily be misunderstood by others. These overused behaviours can lead to a multitude of other unintended consequences, including poor performance, damaged relationships, and low morale. However, by building greater self-awareness, adapting their critical thinking to the needs of the situation, and collaborating with others who are more creative and solutions-oriented, leaders who are critical thinkers can significantly improve their leadership effectiveness and outcomes.   

Increasingly passion is being highlighted as a key ingredient for success at the individual, team, and organizational levels. In today’s rapidly changing and uncertain business environment, companies need passionate people who can drive outstanding and sustained performance. 

Although it has been defined in different ways, passion is best defined as a “fire in the belly” or positive energy to achieve and outperform against one’s goals. Based on significant research over the last 2 decades, we know that when people are in jobs that enable them to do what really motivates them and optimize their talents, they are far more likely to demonstrate higher levels of passion. Passionate employees are also more likely to go “above and beyond” to achieve exceptional results. Organizations today need passionate, strongly committed people to deal with rapid changes in the business environment, growing complexity and increased competition.   

Passion is different from employee engagement in that engagement focuses mainly on employee satisfaction with work environment factors such as co-workers, management, working conditions, etc. Passion is about the individual and their purpose. It focuses on how aligned and connected people are with the company’s vision and whether they believe they can use their unique talents and abilities to help the company solve challenges and achieve its goals. It provides intrinsic motivation stemming from the person’s own aspirations and sense of identity that can boost a person’s performance between paydays. 

Perseverance involves working hard to achieve goals and sticking with a task even in the face of immense pressure and setbacks. It ensures focus and discipline to establish the productive routines and habits necessary to achieve excellent results. There are many factors influencing perseverance, however, the one that is arguably most important is being committed to and energized by one’s roles and the overall purpose of the company. 

So, it seems that passion and perseverance are strongly and positively related. The research has recently been advanced by studies about “Grit” by Angela Duckworth, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Duckworth defines Grit as the capacity to sustain both effort and interest in projects or tasks that take months or even longer to complete. She has found that people who are high in Grit don’t deviate from their goals, even in the absence of positive feedback and in the face of adversity. The Grit concept is essentially a combination of passion and perseverance. It suggests that we should be looking to identify and develop both in our people, rather than focusing on one or the other. 

Suggested Reading:

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, 2016, Angela Duckworth. London: Penguin

Intelligence, typically defined as a person’s cognitive ability to analyze and deal with complex problems in a logical way, is undoubtedly a huge asset in the workplace, and is crucial in dealing effectively with work demands and challenges. 

The way intelligence is defined is still narrow and limiting

In today’s fast paced environment where the speed of change is dizzying, analytical intelligence is important, but insufficient for success. In recent decades psychologists and people professionals have increasingly recognized the importance of taking a broader approach to understanding and measuring intelligence that recognizes its multi-faceted nature. For example, Howard Gardner, a developmental psychologist at Harvard Business School introduced the idea of “multiple intelligences” as a way to broaden the research and practice on intelligence beyond logical, verbal, and numerical abilities. In recent decades this has given rise to a long overdue exploration of different intellectual strengths including creative, social, emotional, and practical intelligences. Studies indicate that for many roles, these are just as important as traditional types of intelligence. However, schools, higher education institutions and workplaces persist in inflating the importance of analytical intelligence. Measures typically used to assess intelligence such as IQ, verbal and numerical reasoning tests reflect this narrow approach. This significantly limits opportunities to expand our understanding and measurement of different types of intellectual strengths and talents in education and the workplace. Moreover, it is not just intelligence that is hugely important in predicting job performance.  

It is often the people who persevere that outperform intellectually gifted ‘smarts’ who lack the social-emotional skills to succeed or give up too quickly when confronted with new or difficult challenges.

So, can an employee who demonstrates exceptional perseverance achieve better results than someone who has higher logical intelligence and reasoning abilities?

Perseverance and Grit are just as important as intelligence  

Perseverance, or the capacity to persist in the face of obstacles or challenges, is receiving increasing attention from behavioural scientists and practitioners alike. Recent studies show that in many roles, it is people who work hard and stick to their long-term goals that are more likely to achieve peak performance. Those demonstrating both passion for their role and dogged perseverance, a combination that has been labelled “Grit” by psychologists, work hardest to overcome obstacles, and don’t give up under stress and pressure. They are therefore more likely to achieve their goals, even when their natural intelligence is lower.   

An interesting finding is that intelligence and Grit aren’t necessarily related. For example, many extremely intelligent people are bought up in overly protected environments and have learned little about dealing with hardship and facing difficult challenges, so they have very low levels of Grit. Contrast this to people who have fought hard to overcome adversity linked to their gender, ethnicity, or social class to succeed in a world that throws down razor-sharp tacks at every turn to slow their progress.

Perseverance is also crucial to develop learning agility required to deal with fast-changing environments. While intelligence is important to effective learning, if the person is not willing to put in the hard work and effort needed to develop new skills and adapt to constant changes, they won’t be able to sustain high levels of success. When tasks and problems are highly complex and the skills to master them are particularly difficult to learn, such as those found in leadership and technical specialist roles, perseverance becomes even more important. 

Hire for perseverance as well as intelligence 

Of course, for more complex, knowledge-intensive roles, the person who has both high levels of intelligence and perseverance is the person who will typically achieve the best performance. They are also more likely to have the Grit and learning agility to thrive in the face of extreme uncertainty and adversity. 

While intelligence is a key quality to have to be able to solve problems and make good, well-reasoned decisions, it is only effective if the person can use their intelligence in an agile way to deal with new and unexpected challenges and opportunities. Perseverance is essential to help leaders and employees tackle and overcome obstacles, deliver results under pressure, and adapt to change. Some may be surprised to learn that studies show that many of the most successful leaders and entrepreneurs are not people with the highest IQ scores or grades from school, college, or university. They achieve success principally through ambition, hard work, love, and belief in what they are doing and dogged perseverance to succeed. Human Resources professionals would therefore be well advised to incorporate this ability to persevere into their assessment strategies to ensure it is part of the way they attract, select, develop, and manage their talent.