When I was a kid I played ping pong quite a bit. We had a ping pong table in my basement and I would play a lot with my dad, my brother and my friends.
I was always a good athlete, and have pretty good hand-eye coordination. So that, combined with a lot of practice, made me pretty good. In fact, I actually won a bunch of local ping pong tournaments at my school and the town recreation center.
And then one day when I was watching TV, I saw the professionals playing ping pong. Most notably, the Chinese national team was playing.
And quickly, any thoughts I ever had of being a great ping pong player faded. I mean, these guys were just awesome. They played at a completely different level; hitting the ball faster than I ever thought imaginable.
So, what made these Chinese ping pong players so great?
They clearly became great from hours and hours of practice. And they clearly became great because of focus and emulation. What I mean by this latter point is that many US kids become great athletes by constantly watching and emulating their favorite basketball, baseball and football players. They buy their jerseys, have their posters on their walls, etc. Which constantly inspires them and serves as a reminder of what they’d like to achieve. That’s why the US has the best basketball, football and baseball players in the world. On the other hand, in China, many of the kids emulate the great Chinese ping pong players and thus excel in that sport.
But the Chinese ping pong players achieved greatness and dominance in the sport for another reason. This reason is summed up beautifully in Donald O. Clifton and Paula Nelson’s book “Soar with Your Strengths” in which they wrote the following:
The Chinese have long held the Olympic gold medal in Ping-Pong. At the 1984 Olympics, when they again captured the gold, the coach of the Chinese team was asked by a reporter, “Tell me about your team’s daily training regimen.”
“We practice eight hours a day perfecting our strengths.”
“Could you be a little more specific?”
“Here is our philosophy: If you develop your strengths to the maximum, the strength becomes so great it overwhelms the weakness. Our winning player, you see, plays only his forehand. Even though he cannot play backhand and his competition knows he cannot play backhand, his forehand is so invincible that it cannot be beaten.”
Importantly, what the Chinese coach said is a proven leadership theory known as “Strengths-Based Leadership Theory.”
Strengths-Based Leadership is a way of improving a company’s success by developing the organization’s strengths. The key to this proven philosophy is that people have a significantly higher ability to further improve on their strengths versus fixing their weaknesses.
Makes sense doesn’t it. Yet most entrepreneurs and leaders do the opposite; they focus on improving their and their employees’ weaknesses. This leads to frustration and lack of high performance. Rather, you should be constantly improving your strengths, so, as the Chinese ping pong coach stated, your strengths are “so invincible that you cannot be beaten.”
So, how do you implement this in your organization:
1. List your organization’s strengths
A strength is defined as the ability to exhibit near-perfect performance consistently in a given activity.
Create a list of the strengths that you and your employees have.
2. Rank your organization’s most important strengths
With your list of strengths, figure out which ones are core to the success of your organization. For example, strengths that allow you to produce a better product or service for your customers would be key as it can give you sustainable competitive advantage.
Rank your key strengths.
3. Invest in further developing your employees’ strengths
Invest time, energy, and money (via training, education, etc.) in further developing your employees’ top-ranked strengths so they get even better and you can dominate competition.
Remember, just having a strength isn’t good enough. Consider professional athletes. They all have great strengths. But the world’s best professional athletes are the ones that constantly practice and improve on their strengths.
4. Outsource your weaknesses
To operate, every company needs to perform many tasks that may fall outside of their strengths. For example, a company who is incredible at making the best wines needs to do many other things. Such as answering incoming phone calls, shipping the wines (to distributors, retailers and customers), creating and maintaining a website, etc.
Importantly, if their wine is that superior, than these other functions are far less important and do not require the company to have competitive advantage.
So, such a firm should outsource these tasks to another firm who focuses on these functionalities (e.g., a web design firm, a trucking company, etc.). They could also consider hiring people who have strengths in these areas. However, in this case, they may also need to hire an operations manager to manage these hires so that they company head can continue to focus on their strength of creating the best wine.
In summary, great leaders do not create companies that are great at everything. Rather, they figure out their key organizational strengths and further develop the most important ones. This gives them lasting competitive advantage. I urge you to do the same.
If you’re a sports fan, you probably have a favorite coach. And it’s probably not the coach of the Chinese national ping-pong team.
For me, I greatly admire both John Wooden and Vince Lombardi, although both coached before my time. More recently, my favorite coaches include Joe Torre, Mike Krzyzewski, Phil Jackson, Bill Parcells and Jimmy Johnson.
Each of these coaches do/did a great job of finding the right players and developing their strengths. As a result, each of them achieved massive success.
You can too if you follow my proven formula to becoming a better leader. See below to learn the formula.