Now, Embrace Your Weaknesses

Thanks to the Gallup organization, hoards of leaders have been discovering and using their strengths. I really like that idea. Forgive me for being a wet blanket here, but it’s unfortunate that this attention to strengths has had an (unintended?) consequence: leaders, their organizations and coaches believe that by focusing on an individual’s strengths, their weaknesses become irrelevant.

Weaknesses are important too

As much as I love spending time in the light (strengths), I believe that we must also look at…and act on… the dark (weaknesses) in order to become the best at what we do. Its hard work to take a look at this unpleasant stuff – and it’s even harder to correct it.

Almost all leaders can articulate their strengths very well. Perhaps they’ve taken the StrengthsFinder assessment, or perhaps they just know what they are good at; it’s what’s made them successful, after all.

These leaders can remember their top five talents and can speak eloquently about how their strengths help them to be good leaders.

But ask them about their weaknesses, and the conversation grinds to a halt. Somewhere, deep inside like the oil slick lurking at the bottom of the Gulf, they have weaknesses that are waiting to surface under appropriate circumstances (and often, they already have). These weaknesses, if left undiscovered or untouched by a plan to correct them, can make a mess of things.

Your stakeholders know

Even if you can’t articulate your weaknesses, there is no lack of stakeholders who are willing to do so for you. Managers, peers, employees, and customers can speak to what your weaknesses are; I know this because I’ve talked to many of these stakeholders on behalf of my clients. It is not unusual for their list of my client’s weaknesses to be longer than their list of strengths.

In fact, much of the time, a leader’s weaknesses are actually strengths that have been overdone (a common example is the client who is proud of the fact that they always speaks the truth. Their stakeholders say that this client’s weakness is that they are too direct, and need to learn to soften the blow of their words).

Embracing the dark side

I’m making a case here for discovering – and embracing – the dark side of you, too. If you don’t make the effort becoming self-aware enough to know what your weaknesses are, you just can’t get better at leadership. In most cases, discovering and using your strengths isn’t enough. You must work at moderating or eliminating your weaknesses too.  

So take that multi-rater feedback assessment. Discover and embrace your weaknesses. Hire a coach to help you figure out what to take action on and to hold you accountable for eliminating or moderating your weaknesses. Go ahead; I promise it’ll be good for you.

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

6 comments on “Now, Embrace Your Weaknesses

  1. Mary Jo –
    Thanks for adding your voice to the “weaknesses matter” side of the debate. Yes, maximizing your strenghts will make you happier – and that’s important – but it won’t make you better. High performers are always aware of and working on their weaknesses.

  2. Dan, thanks for stopping over and adding your concurrence. Honestly – I wouldn’t know how to assist a client if all we worked on were their strengths.

  3. I’m with Dan, thanks for adding your voice to conversation on this. Building on your strengths is a good strategy, but if that’s all you do you won’t be very effective. In a personal development context you need to discover your weaknesses so you can consciously work on the most important ones. And in a team context you need to discover them so you can work to make them irrelevant.

  4. Thanks for adding your thoughts, Wally. I would agree that becoming “conscious” of weaknesses in order to “consciously” work on them is important. What I’ve found is that many prefer to stick their heads in the sand!

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