Saturday, February 23, 2013

Must strong people have strong weaknesses?

"Strong people have strong weaknesses.  Where there are peaks, there are valleys."
             - Peter Drucker, The Effective Executive

A few of us at Minted are reading the book "The Effective Executive".  Drew Houston recommended it when he did a fireside chat at our office.  The book contains the quote above.  It has some examples of people who were alcoholic or threw frequent tantrums, but still was the best person at one core part of their job. It goes on to suggest that you ignore the weaknesses in that case.

I agree that if the most effective candidate has major flaws, you should still pick that person over a mediocre candidate with no flaws.

However, I think it'd be better if the super-effective candidate can get over their alcoholism or tantrums, so that they are even more effective.  The book thinks this is unrealistic.

It's true that the famous visionary leaders (Jobs, Gates) are singlemindedly bent on fulfilling their vision, even at the cost of treating people poorly.  There are stories of Jobs firing people in the elevator, and Gates making people cry ("That was the stupidest thing I've ever heard.  What school did you go to?  We're never hiring from there again.")  This book implies that this is to be expected.  But is that really true?

Steve Lawrence, who I worked with for a year at Google, is pretty phenomenal and does not have weaknesses that are the same magnitude as his strengths.  Also Jeff Dean, Omst, and many other people.

I wonder if it's actually that strong people can often get away with having strong weaknesses.  Chris Brown can get away with smashing Rihanna's face into his car -- his records are still selling.  So he is not forced to shape up.

I hope there aren't strong leaders who were debating whether to do the hard work to mitigate their alcoholism / tantrums, and then read this book and decided not to.


wanda said...

Some people have weaknesses that are a consequence of their strengths. For example, single-minded obsession means that a person has less patience for any other topic and less knowledge of social skills. However, faults like alcoholism and beating up your girlfriend are not like this; they have nothing to do with their strengths. These people would, in fact, be more successful by their own metrics if they didn't have these faults. For these, I think you are right: their success insulates them from the consequences of their failures.

ArC said...

Sometimes I think when people write these things, the audience isn't potential leaders, but existing leaders who want to be told what they already want to hear. In such cases, the point isn't to sell books, but to sell speaking appearances.