“Play to your strengths. They’re your greatest assets.” ~ Wendy Nicole Anderson
How often have you invested in a training course to try to improve something you felt you were not good at? Perhaps it was marketing, sales or public speaking. It’s almost an unquestioned approach – know your weaknesses and get better at them before anyone notices.
This can lead us to feel as if we have to do battle with what we don’t do well and come out on top. We wreck ourselves with unrealistic expectations about how we need to be good at everything. As it turns out, the majority of people around the world exactly feel the same. This pressure to “dominate” is real. This is beyond unhelpful and you can actually make a bigger difference by making a little mindset shift around this.
In their groundbreaking book Now, Discover Your Strengths, authors Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton say that across all ages and cultures, people are more concerned about their weaknesses than their strengths. To summarise the problem: We believe that our weaknesses matter more in holding us back than our strengths matter in advancing us.
That’s nonsense, say the authors—widely held nonsense, but nonsense nonetheless. In their provocative theory, they suggest that the better strategy is to play to your strengths. This means building upon your core talents, and working around your weaknesses. You can endeavour to add skills and knowledge to increase your performance in any area. There’s nothing wrong with that. But unless you are building upon one of your innate talents, your efforts won’t produce exceptional results. At best, you will see some slight but not dramatic improvement.
“Unless you have the necessary talent, your improvements will be modest,” write Buckingham and Clifton. “You will be diverting most of your energy toward damage control and very little toward real development.”
The expression “damage control” is their term for trying to minimise your weaknesses—the areas where your lack of talent actually get in the way of your performance.
“Managing Around” a Weakness
Instead of trying to overcome your weaknesses by brute force—and at the expense of putting the same energy into growing your strengths—they offer five strategies for what they call “managing around” a weakness:
1. Get a Little Better At It.
In some cases, your weakness is only moderately impeding your peak performance in other areas. If so, then maybe damage control is the right solution. Put some effort into improving in the area of concern, but keep your expectations anchored to the ground. And don’t waste too much time or effort in trying to improve.
2. Develop a Support System.
This is the proverbial string tied around the finger to remind you of something. Whether it is time management systems for those with a talent for adaptability but not discipline, or a scheduled walk in the park for disciplined folks who neglect self-care, you can often blunt the effects of your weaknesses through such structured inputs.
3. Study Your Prospects.
If your skills tend toward the analytical and away from such talents as wooing clients or dealing directly with confrontation, then you probably ought not be spending a lot of time in sales. But when you do have to sell something—such as one of your ideas—approach the problem analytically. Rather than agonise over your lack of salesmanship, study your prospects, dig into what makes them tick and what ideas they’ve accepted in the past, and let your enthusiasm for your ideas do the talking.
4. Find a Partner.
This may be the best approach for small business people and “solo” practitioners. Go into partnership discussions with a clear-eyed understanding of the strengths you bring, and the strengths you need from your partner. Don’t be shy about your strengths—the whole point of this is to create a world in which you get to do what you are really good at. And be open-minded about what a partnership looks like. For some solo practitioners, an administrative assistant or a marketing consultant could be all the partnering you need.
5. Just (Don’t) Do It
The last option, say Buckingham and Clifton, is just don’t do the things you are weak at. In a corporate setting you might get away with this, particularly if you are a high-performer in the areas of your strengths. But in many organisations, this may take some negotiation. Try going to your boss with some examples of how they could gain by allowing you to play to your strengths. If you’re a small business owner and your organisational chart tends to have “me” written in most every box, not doing something may not seem like much of a choice. But keep it as a goal and continue to work toward the day when you can contribute to your business exclusively from the place of your highest strengths. Design your business with this in mind, and as soon as you can afford to, start to outsource your weaknesses to other people.
I would add a final strategy to those above:
6. Be Authentic
Don’t underestimate the importance of being authentic with the people that matter. Own up to your weaknesses, and share your strategies about how you plan to manage them. This will come off a lot better than trying to pretend you can do it all. It’s better to be vulnerable and ask for some help, than act stoic and make a mess of the task. Remember, at the end of the day, you are a unique individual – no one in the world is just like you. So own it. Warts and all. Be okay with yourself and the rest of the world will too!
“Every weakness contains within itself a strength.” ~
Finding Your Strengths
Now that you have some strategies to better manage around your weaknesses, here’s my top 15 questions to help you identify and own your strengths. If you feel unsure about your strengths, or want to reconnect with them, go ahead and open a journal and work your way through these questions now:
1. What are 3-5 of your greatest strengths as a person?
2. What are 5-10 things you do well?
3. What could you speak about at length with a fair degree of knowledge?
4. What are you passionate about at this time in your life?
5. What would friends or family say are your personal strengths?
6. What feedback have you received from co-workers about your assets?
6. How have you grown in the past 12-months (or what new strengths are you developing)?
7. How have you been able to successfully develop your skills?
8. What is going well in your life right now? (List multiple)
9. What do you value about yourself?
10. What topics do you seem to learn easily?
11. What skills have you learnt and become proficient at with minimal effort?
12. What challenges have you faced and overcome in the past year/past 5 years/past 10 years?
13. How do your strengths contribute to the community at large (family, friends, broader community)??
14. What is an example of where you felt you made a big difference to someone or something?
15. List some of the main resources and support people you have in your life right now?
Until next month,
Books on this Topic
© Michelle McClintock Coaching & Psychology
Author’s content used under license, © 2008 Claire Communications
The Mindset Mentor
Michelle McClintock is a Life & Business Mindset Strategist who specialises in transforming your mindset so you can experience more peace, happiness, success and fulfilment.
Michelle has 30-years experience in personal development, as a Psychologist, Facilitator, Speaker and Results Coach. She loves it when people get new insights that spark massive growth and positive transformation.
Through her writing and videos she makes complex coaching and psychology ideas easy to digest and assimilate, so you can create your ultimate life.