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The Center for Sales Strategy Blog

Executive Coaching: A management lesson from JFK

Management lesson from JFKTruth be told, I’m not very good at most things. Neither are you. 

I can’t sing. I don’t light up a room when I walk in.  Don’t count on me for a base hit at the company softball game. I’ve tried over and over again to understand how whole life insurance works, but I’ve failed every time. And when I say I can’t cook, my wife will tell you I have trouble even boiling water.

If you’re honest with yourself, you’re lousy—or at best undistinguished—at almost everything.  Because, for all of us, our list of non-talents is much longer than our list of talents. And it makes no difference.  

At no time in history has any person ever succeeded because of their non-talents.

We are successful in life only when we use our talents.  

And we are successful as managers only when we ask others to use their talents.

President John F. Kennedy understood this everlasting truth—and said it very well:

"Persons are judged to be great because of the positive qualities they possess,

not because of the absence of faults."

We all have faults. The sooner we stop obsessing about them, the sooner we stop blaming our faults for our failures, the sooner we start looking past what we can’t do to focus on what we can do… the sooner we’ll start winning in life and in business.

If you’re a manager, you may have ten times as much opportunity to apply this axiom.  If you’re an exec, you probably have a hundred, maybe a thousand, times the opportunities to get it right—or to get it wrong.  I continue to be dumbfounded by how many bosses dwell on the faults, the shortcomings, the non-talents of their people, believing that if they could only fix all those problems, everything would be sweet.  I shudder every time a manager zeroes in on a weakness—in a Quixotic quest to flip it to a strength—knowing that the manager’s precious time would have been better invested if it were focused instead on what that person can do.

Famed management guru Peter Drucker made the same point:

“Results are obtained by exploiting opportunities,
not by solving problems.

Most problems cannot be solved.

And most problems are made irrelevant by success.”

Occasionally there’s a problem that must be solved, or a non-talent that so gets in the way of a person’s talents that they simply cannot do the job.  But those are the exception.  Most problems—and most non-talents—would benefit by a little benign neglect.  Look the other way.  Look toward the possibilities, not the problems.  That’s true whether you see those problems when looking in the mirror, or when looking out at your people.

Keep your focus on the can-do.  How much better can you do it?  How much better can your people do what they do?


Steve Marx is Charman Emeritus at The Center for Sales Strategy.

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Topics: developing strengths Sales