Many of us are obsessed by our weaknesses. No matter how aware we are of our strengths and no matter how these strengths lift us to great heights of accomplishment, we worry that a weakness could show up and buckle our knees at any moment.
A common mistake I hear (even by some CEOs) is “focus on your strengths and ignore your weaknesses.” Ignoring an issue is not a good strategy for handling it.
What if you aren’t sure what your weaknesses are? Maybe you’re aware (or painfully aware!) of one, but sense others are lurking beneath the surface, hanging out with Nessie. There are assessment tools and exercises you can utilize to identify your weaknesses (one excellent one is Gallup’s “Strength Finder’s Profile”), but you can begin to self-determine them right now by asking yourself a question.
By the way, please note that you are interested in identifying your perceived weakness, from your point of view, and it’s possibly a mirage.
Also, for the purpose of this empowerment exercise, define a weakness as something that gets in your way of peak performance. Just because you are not proficient in something doesn’t mean that particular ineptitude ever rises to the level of making waves or drowning your dreams. Only when your role requires a strength or talent which you lack should that void be counted as a weakness. So ask yourself what your current leadership roles (at work, home, in the community, in your extended family, church—any waters you swim in) require for “excellence” and what keeps showing up in a sometimes-embarrassing way that hinders you.
Once you have your meet-and-greet with a weakness, ask it what purpose it serves.
Example: Jane struggles at work and convinces herself it is because she is shy, an introvert, with no natural ability to build rapport, gain allies, and play office politics. She identifies being an introvert as her main weakness.
Jane asks: What purpose do you serve? And simply by posing the question, she feels less resentful. By investing time in self-reflection, she discovers that the qualities of being introverted have helped her in many ways, and she begins to appreciate her constant and loyal companion, Nessie the Introvert. So, sometimes a weakness can be treated differently and utilized to help peak performance, not hinder it.
But what if she has been doing exceptionally well as a land-lubber and suddenly is thrown into the middle of the lake? Her role changes and she realizes that a weakness which was of no consequence before is now a problem. A problem which demands to be solved. This is an example of a type of weakness which is actually easily transformed into a strength through learning new skills. She can either sink and blame Nessie or she can sign up for swimming lessons and gain the strength which her new role requires.
What if gaining knowledge and becoming skilled does not in fact solve the problem, or if you simply don’t have the time or aptitude to master this new skill? In brief, the answer lies in being resourceful. That is, resource-full. Find complementary partners. These could be structures of support like automation tools or systems. A simple example is that you don’t have to become good at spelling even if you are a writer, as long as you have spell-check and a dictionary handy. Or these partners could be other people who possess the missing strength that is part of the puzzle you have endeavored to solve. Some successful business partnerships I’ve seen look like a set of well-matched strengths: only one partner is great with numbers, only one partner is great with hiring the right people, etc.
There is another effective and key strategy for handling a weakness which must not be overlooked. Remember, a weakness only become problematic when your leadership role requires that you employ a strength which simply isn’t there. Rather than working on skill development or finding complementary resources, you can choose to simply own it. Embrace it. It does not have to continue being a secret you try to keep from yourself and others or that you constantly struggle to “fix.”
A manager did her best to work on her “soft skills” but continued to catch herself driving hard at the expense of rapport-building with her team. She had no intention of being abrasive, and she did actually like and appreciate each individual on her team. She also liked the fact that her team consistently out-performed every other team in the region. She didn’t want to lose anyone who may be sensitive to her direct, all-business style of communication. When the team showed up in the conference room for their next meeting, they were greeted with an array of catered dishes and an abundance of complimentary lunch options. Never happened before. She proceeded to acknowledge them as a team and found some particular praise to give each individual. Then she told them that she had an announcement of a new policy—from now on, everyone must remember this meeting and how proud she was of them. She confessed that she had believed her greatness weakness was behaving as if the only priority ever was the task at hand. She shared that she had realized this was also her greatest strength. Do the outstanding results not speak for themselves? Embracing her hard-driving style, she told her team she would no longer tolerate anything but love for this formerly-named weakness…from herself or from them. It surprised her to see how understanding and accepting everyone was and she made a spur-of the-moment announcement that they would have an “Eat, Praise, Love” meeting every month, going forward.
This worked for her only because she became 100% responsible for how her weakness affected herself and everyone around her. She did not say, “Team, this is just how I am… get over it.” By owning and embracing what she considered a weakness (because it sometimes got in her way of being an excellent manager), she was freed up to capitalize on her strengths even more. She also described that first confession meeting as the most powerful trust-building step she’d ever experienced.
Authenticity is always a pillar of trust-building. Identify your weaknesses and stop being ashamed of them. Address them by learning what you need to know, or bring in the strength from an outside resource, or transform your relationship with it by owning it, endorsing it, and having it serve your interests and others’. Trust that your weakness has a purpose and focus on balancing it with strengths rather than hoping an anchor holds it below the surface of the waves you want most to ride.