Leveraging Our Weaknesses

…Instead of Ignoring Them

I’m a fan of the Clifton Strengthsfinder assessment (http://www.strengthsfinder.com/). If you’re familiar with the tool, you’ll recognize my “Restorative” nature (seeing problems or weaknesses as opportunities) reflected in this article. Those with strong “Maximizer” traits probably didn’t get past the title to read this far.gym-592899_640

Strengthsfinder assesses you based on 34 “strengths” and helps you recognize your strongest natural talents. They encourage you to develop your strengths rather than spending time fixing your shortcomings. I support that concept – up to a point.  Ignoring weaknesses is dangerous (not that Strengthsfinder says to do that), as is using them as an excuse for bad behavior, e.g. “discipline / responsibility / communication is not my strength”. Note: Bad habits are not the same thing as inherent weaknesses.

It makes sense that we should leverage our strengths (and I’m using “strength” in a broader sense than just the natural strengths Strengthsfinder defines), but how do we leverage our weaknesses? Here are a few thoughts on how to let our weaknesses help us rather than defeat us:

  1. Acknowledge our weaknesses. Ignoring – or worse, denying – our weaknesses is a sure-fire way to let them bring us down. No one is strong at everything. Let’s be real about it.  Humility is a strength made real by our weaknesses. Credibility, trust, and relationships are strengthened by humility.
  2. Mitigate our weaknesses. Few of us have the luxury of a role that allows us to use our strengths without requiring anything from us in our areas of weakness.  There are more effective ways to handle that reality than ignoring them and hoping they go away:
    1. Team up with others who complement our weaknesses. Not only does this relieve us of a burden, it creates opportunity for others to use and develop their strengths. There is a caveat to this: We have to actually value the differences and not think they’re wrong when they don’t think and behave like we do.
    2. Implement systems and processes to support our weaknesses. Bad memory? Find a reminder system that works for you. Disorganized? Get an organized person to help you create a system to organize the important stuff then use that system.
    3. Develop threshold levels of competency in essential weaknesses. This takes strong motivation, hard work, and a willingness to deny ourselves the pleasure of staying in our comfort zone. But we can learn behaviors that don’t come naturally. I’ll never be a star in these areas, but can I develop enough competency to get by? Personally, my current role is very fulfilling, but to be successful I’ve had to learn to engage people in ways that I find uncomfortable. But it’s worth it to me. I’m also willing to accept the limits on my “success” that are defined by the limits of my abilities.
  3. A weakness may be a misapplied strength. Being 5’ tall is a weakness for a pro basketball center but a strength for a jockey. Consider getting off the court and on a horse.

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