Marcus sure gets mentioned a lot both by those who agree you shouldn’t waste time trying to change your weaknesses, only work on strengths and those who strongly dispute that. If you’ve followed my posts you may guess I believe in doing both! That’s the Zen answer. But which ones when and how much?
A key function of Human Resources is trying to get people hired or existing ones moved into jobs that fit their strengths. Buckingham would be right in thinking I’d be wasting my time aiming for the Olympics, definitely not in my strengths. But every athlete or manager who legitimately wants his or her role and has talent still has “weaknesses” to work on. It would make no difference to me if my biggest problem in the 100 meter dash was my start, but for those who win or lose by microseconds, knowing their weaknesses and working on them is huge. And to suggest they not bother would be completely wrong.
So, should we only work on strengths – no way! But starting with strengths and working on them as well as what makes them weaker than they could be is essential. Since studies show the lowest rated skills for most leaders are all aspects of working with people (versus things), we clearly need to promote those with inclination and relevant ability, but we also need to work hard to ensure they get exposed to experiences that help them grow people skills.
Tips: How to choose what to work on
Ideally trial and error and solid self-reflection have landed you in a job you like a lot. (If not, figuring out what you really prefer is priority #1.) Then, to get better at what you like doing:
1. Try to evaluate and especially ask others for their opinions of your strengths and weaknesses for this work. Take time to assess accuracy. Don’t be reactive to emotional issues about these and don’t take anyone’s first word, especially your own.
2. Work on your three or four biggest strengths… by looking at your weaknesses in those areas, planning a strategy to improve them and consistently doing a bit each day whenever they come up. Set reminders for yourself or you’ll forget.
3. Then look at your two or three biggest weaknesses. Really look. Some may not be as bad as you think; others are worse. Be aware you have a couple of approaches – first, get someone else to do those things instead (a team member, co-leader, spouse, etc.). Figure out how to be great without ever doing these. Don’t let yourself be tempted. Pamper the people who do this for you so you’ll never have to. …But also… decide on one, just one, weakness you really, really, really want to change. Create a plan and work on it every day, asking people continually how you are doing and asking for their help and suggestions. Make this into a daily habit of practice. In a few months or a year or two, evaluate your results. Chances are you’ve made enough progress (and built some continuing habits) that you can choose a second miserable area to work on. But expect to keep working on these for the rest of your life. They will never come entirely naturally.
4. Periodically assess your results and the balance between work on strengths and weaknesses, not letting either completely absorb your energy – do both. The proportion of time you spend on each is a balance only you can decide.
The bottom line is you can’t easily change weaknesses, but you better know what they are and have a strategy to prevent them de-railing you. Over time you can certainly improve some of these areas, but only if you work hard on one at a time and choose only those you really want to change… and then persist, persist, persist. For me this has meant a lifelong drive to get over feeling shy. I’ve developed tons of behaviors that work most of the time, but there are still areas where my original habits continue to affect what I do and unless the day ever comes that isn’t the case, I’ll keep this in mind and keep working away at little bits.