The Golden Ratio

Let’s talk about the Golden Ratio.

No, I’m not dragging you back to THAT high school math formula.  (I will admit though, remembering it gave me quite the nerdy rush!)

The Golden Ratio I’m talking about is all about leadership.  It’s a simple rule: leaders should focus on TWO strengths and ONE area of opportunity at any given time.

Let me tell you a story, and you’ll quickly see what I mean.

A recent client of mine, Jeff, came to me looking for help: he wanted to identify his mid- and long-term career goals. 

Jeff was happy in his current role as a senior executive at a Fortune 100 tech company, but he didn’t know what he wanted to do next OR longer-term.  He also knew his learning curve was flattening in his current role, so it was nearly time to rotate to something new.

Another challenge Jeff was having: every time he sought career advice from his managers, he came away feeling lost.  Instead of helping him think about what roles were best for him longer term, his managers instead suggested he stay and continue to find ways to close the gaps of his weaknesses.  This made Jeff feel exhausted and depleted, which is why he ultimately sought out Haven Coaching for help.

This might be familiar to you.  It certainly was familiar to me: the desire for career inspiration, to be propelled forward toward your most heart-felt goals, only to be met with unhelpful advice to “just keep working on your areas of opportunity!”

What helped Jeff here — and what could help us all — is the Golden Ratio.  


The Golden Ratio

The Golden Ratio of Leadership is a simple formula.  Here it is:

At any given time, you should be focused on TWO STRENGTHS and ONE AREA OF OPPORTUNITY.  That’s it.

In Jeff’s case, he was, by all measures, a rock star at his company.  He had had a meteoric rise through the ranks; he consistently received top ratings each annual review cycle; he couldn’t be more well-loved by his direct reports.

Yet when Jeff asked for advice on what career path to take next, his managers told him simply to stay put and “fix” his weaknesses.  In other words — they suggested he become a “perfect Jeff” with no weaknesses at all.

This type of advice is incredibly common.  Managers are inherently predisposed to helping their team members identify areas of opportunity, and help close those gaps.  It almost comes as second nature to a manager.  

However, there are three main problems with focusing solely (or mainly) on your areas of opportunity, either when crafting goals or even in your day-to-day work:

  • Having a sole focus on areas of opportunity can tank your morale. Focusing only on things you’re not good at can make you feel… crappy!
  • Having a sole focus on areas of opportunity means that others also only see you working on things you’re not good at… which means you’re no longer seen as a strong “superstar” leader.
  • There is no such thing as a “perfect Jeff” — or a perfect anyone.  We’ll always have weaknesses/areas of opportunity.  We can’t stay put and put our lives on hold until we close all gaps — this is simply unrealistic.

Instead, switch your focus to the Golden Ratio: two strengths to one area of opportunity.

This ensures you are more focused on your strengths: the things you’re known for, the things that make you a valuable asset at work, and, most likely, the things that align most with your core values.

At the same time, you aren’t ignoring your areas of opportunities/weaknesses.  You’re just not making them the superstar of your show.  Pick the one(s) that are most important to your growth and ensure they’re in the right ratio to the strengths you’re working on that year.

In Jeff’s case, when he began thinking about his next role and his longer-term aspirations, he kept this ratio in mind and was much happier and more aligned.  Rather than staying put until he became “perfect,” or seeking out roles that highlighted only his areas of opportunity, he created goals that matched up with his Golden Ratio.  


Other Times the Golden Ratio is Helpful

Focusing on a ratio of two strengths to one area of opportunity is not only helpful when you’re ready to rotate into a new role.  There are myriad other circumstances in which the Golden Ratio is beneficial.  Here are a few:

  • When filling out an individual development plan (also sometimes known as a leadership development plan, employee development plan, etc.)  We too often focus solely on our areas of opportunity in these types of documents, thinking that the only thing worth “developing” are our weaknesses.  This is a myth; in fact, our strengths need to continuously be developed, otherwise they can easily atrophy.
  • When deciding what projects, opportunities, etc. you want to take on this year. We often supplement our repetitive work with other “stretch” opportunities whenever feasible.  However, many of us tend to choose opportunities that “fill in the gaps” of our weaknesses.  This time, consider the Golden Ratio when you’re offered additional opportunities.  The same thing applies to subject matter expert (SME) roles, as well.  Again, strengths can atrophy if you don’t utilize them.
  • When creating goals for yourself and your team.  While many goals are fed top-down by your company, many are also determined by you.  Still others are personal goals that may only be seen by you.  Don’t let all of the goals you control be areas of opportunity.  Stick to the Golden Ratio here, as well.


Flipping the Ratio

There is one major exception to when you should use the Golden Ratio rule.  If you manage someone — or are someone — who is struggling to meet performance standards, you should flip the Golden Ratio.  

For example, if an employee on your team is NOT receiving top ratings and instead gets sub-standard ratings, or even is at risk of getting a performance improvement plan, you should suggest the inverse Golden Ratio.  This employee should focus their efforts on their two most prominent areas of opportunity and one strength. 

An inverse ratio will help this employee focus on the most important things to get them back to the appropriate performance bar.  Then, you can help them adjust to the regular Golden Ratio thereafter.




What are your thoughts?  Have you been in Jeff’s situation before?  How were you able to emerge?  Share with us in comments below!

Need more 1:1 guidance? Click here to schedule some time with me — I’d love to chat and help you love what you do.

Haven Coaching