Depending on our cultural background and our education, we may use our strengths and weaknesses a little differently. Some people put a bet on their strengths since they know this is where their skills stand out, and that’s what makes them successful. Others persuade their weaknesses as an opportunity to grow and therefore become more successful. I didn’t run research on this, but from my practice, I see that this might also depend on our self-esteem.
Let’s say we’ve made a “360 survey” and asked people around us, our colleagues, for example, to give us feedback and list our strengths and weaknesses. Let’s imagine you have the list now with those two columns. Which one will you work on when you plan your development plan?
Most people that I asked this question said they would work on their Weaknesses.
I believe that the answer is not that clear and obvious. While working on your weaknesses might be a strategy to improve work results, it also could be damaging and might block you from achieving something great and outstanding.
Where does the whole idea come from? Who taught us to work and focus on our weaknesses constantly?
Whether it was a school, kinder garden, or college, remember how you were getting grades there? At school, for example, I was good at maths, but bad at sports, I helped my friends with biology, but couldn’t crack chemistry. You had to be good at everything they teach you. That’s what most successful students did. No one told me back then, that maybe chemistry wouldn’t be something I would need to use or being bad at sports doesn’t mean I will be loser in life. You just had to do it and get a good grade. And not upset your parents, of course.
Then you start your career and there is a job description with a predefined set of skills you need to have to succeed. There is also a grading again – performance reviews, 360 reviews, peer-to-peer reviews, where they tell you about your weaknesses as the things to improve and sometimes praise you for your strengths.
Strengths vs Weaknesses
Let’s think about strengths vs weaknesses in the most obvious way – physical. Imagine a bodybuilder, who’s made a bigger focus on building up shoulders but haven’t built strong legs. While it will be a nice triangle shape for a man, he wouldn’t be able to perform an intense and complex physical activity, when a full-body strength is needed and where our legs also have to endure pressure.
When our bodybuilder decides to finally strengthen his legs and give up his shoulder workout, his previous strength will become a weakness soon.
I believe the same can also be applied to our social and professional skills.
Let’s imagine Philipp, a business development manager, who is involved in at least 3 to 5 calls with customers per day. His strengths are that he is a good listener, he always knows what the customer really wants, he is attentive to details, and listens very carefully to an input and an inquiry.
Imagine that our Philipp got feedback from the manager. Philipp would have to improve his presentation skills. When he describes a product to the customer, he has to give more details and be more persuasive in selling the product.
The next meetings with customers Philipp would be all focused on how he speaks and presents the product, trying to be more persuasive and become a better salesperson. What if he becomes more focused on his weaknesses more than listening to the customer as he did before?
Lesson 1: Both strengths and weaknesses are important to focus on
Our strengths are something that already helps us, something that we are good at, something that we have to consider when we want to become better. It is like fuel, skills which come more naturally to us and can help us develop.
What could be better done in our Phillip imaginary case:
🌿 Philipp is already great at listening to a customer and noticing important details
🌿 If we would start from that and say: “Philipp, this is great how you listen to the customer. They open up to you, you are getting details other people wouldn’t get from the first call. Let’s use this for the next stage – sales. When you get to the part of presenting our product, give the customer more details about what is important to them. Use your knowledge of the customer’s need to showcase how our product can help with that. Highlight those features of the product better and it will be great! You will become a great salesperson.”
Let’s imagine Philipp has never planned to be a salesperson. So he listens to the feedback carefully and mentions that he is looking forward to shift to the market analytics manager. That’s why he went to business development – to be close to the market, to hear what customers want, what are the trends. That’s why he is so good at listening to the customer and paying a great deal of attention.
Lesson 2: Our strengths have to be relevant to what we do
Sometimes, when we have a set of strengths and they are related to what we are interested in, we just need to channel them right.
As in an example with Phillip. Let’s imagine further. Let’s say he managed to get a transition to analytics, where his attention to detail and ability to collect data from the customers is a great advantage. Finally, his strengths are channeled to something that matters to him.
But there is another part of the role – making analysis, conclusions, and decisions based on the data. So when Philipp will overuse his strength in collecting data really well, the company could be late on implementing business decisions based on that analysis.
Imagine an amazing creative marketer, who would be so swamped by the process of generating ideas and would be so great in it. But when the time comes to deliver the project – everything gets messy and never on a deadline.
Lesson 3: The dark side of our strengths
No one is perfect. Everyone has her own strengths and weaknesses. And as you see from lessons above, our strengths can become weaknesses depending on the situation we are in or on the specific job we are performing.
There are skills though which are generally good. Like you can’t be too empathetic. If you work with people, it is always good to be a good listener and be supportive. But sometimes we can use our strengths unintelligently or channel them wrong. Imagine if Phillip were too empathetic and worry about the customers too much? They would love that, but at the same time, they could easily take advantage of that – getting better deals and acting only for the benefit of their business.
Some strengths that we overuse can be also perceived by other people as our weaknesses. This is what I call the dark side of strengths. Here are some examples:
🌿 Imagine someone who is too direct with the feedback, too honest with no filter. Some people would get it as aggressive behavior.
🌿 Too empathetic = weak, someone who could be taken advantage of.
🌿 Too assertive = aggressive.
🌿 Too engaged = annoying.
🌿 Too analytical (willing to prove everything with data) = lack of trust.
🌿 Managing every part of the process = bossy, too controlling.
What we can do about it? The first thing is to be aware of our strengths, make sure they are relevant for what we do, and how do we channel them right. And also how others percept us – validate our strengths and weaknesses with others by asking them what do they feel we are doing great at the moment and what could be changed.
Lesson 4: Building up on strengths
Overall I have a feeling that the greatest success in the world was always created by people with 1-2 amazing strengths and much more weaknesses alongside.
Think of Steve Jobs, who was a great marketer and a talented creative, while behaving terribly with people. Think of Richard Branson, the fourth richest person in the UK, who has dyslexia, who built up his success on the strengths of his personality. Think of Martin Luther King, who was a transformational leader, but also was called authoritarian.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that once establishing what your strengths are you stop there. I believe in constant improvement, in learning and development. But I think working constantly on your weaknesses only makes you move toward the average results. While the most outstanding success is made by people with a one or two strengths highlighted to the extreme, used with a total bet on that power-skillset.
So I think that weaknesses can be tuned according to the job you are performing or the situation, but the real success you build on your strengths!
Lesson 5: When you do something great – learn how to repeat that!
Growth doesn’t stop as soon as you discovered your strengths – it is just the beginning!
In the 13 years of my career, I have been working mostly in human resources, talent development, and people management. But at the same time I was almost always leading or been involved in the projects in finances & accounting, legal, customer support, business development, automation system development, and once I even led the project team of launching a new e-commerce business model for the company. Yes, while still officially owning the role in HR.
Honestly, I am not good at neither – finances, legal or software engineering. But there was one strength, which always helped me power through in any situation – I was very good at getting along with people, empathetic and extremely dedicated to get the result! So when a person of any other role needs help – I will find a way to do that. Even if it means to get deeper into an unknown area of knowledge for me.
Today coaching is one of the areas, where I truly feel my strengths are channeled right.
🌿 Build up on your strengths! And make sure your weaknesses aren’t a blocker and can be tuned when needed.
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