Weakness – A Dirty Word?

“New England Patriot’s Quarterback Tom Brady doesn’t have good tackling techniques!”

Sounds absurd doesn’t it?  No one would ever critique an elite quarterback for having a weakness in tackling.  Especially since he won three Super Bowls, two Super Bowl MVP awards, seven Pro Bowl selections and holds the NFL record for most touchdown passes in a single regular season. What gets highlighted are his strengths!

Why do we spend so much energy trying focusing on our weaknesses?

Management consultant Peter Drucker summed it up:

The effective executive… knows that one cannot build on weakness…. To make strength productive is the unique purpose of organization. It cannot, of course, overcome the weaknesses with which each of us is abundantly endowed. But it can make them irrelevant.

Although Peter Drucker makes a strong case it’s hard to imagine a world in which weaknesses are irrelevant. For almost everyone, “weakness” is a dirty word, a concept we’d love to avoid but feel we can’t. We end up going through the motions when we have to. You’ll rarely make it through a job interview without being asked to discuss your weaknesses. Your performance reviews are laden with bullet points highlighting weaknesses addressed as “areas for improvement.” Rarely does your supervisor ask you to put together a plan that focuses on your strengths; having a road map intentionally designed around contributing your best to the organization.

In one of my recent workshops – Maximizing Your Strengths – a well-respected woman in a manufacturing company said to the group, “This is such a positive message. It has been wonderful to focus on strengths. It seems that so much of the emphasis is to focus on our weaknesses, pointing them out repeatedly. I would be more encouraged if I was taught how to manage my weaknesses and spend more energy getting better at my strengths.” Wow…it was a ringing endorsement!

She was right. You know what drags you down, what fills you with dread, what you’d never do again if your job didn’t require it.  Marcus Buckingham wrote,

“You may even be good at what you hate doing — but that doesn’t mean you don’t hate doing it. More often, what we hate and what we do badly overlap and reinforce each other in a vicious circle. It’s hard to love what you’re not good at, and it’s hard to get good at something you hate doing.”

What do we do with this vicious circle? I am happy to be associated with other coaches who help encourage people not to dwell on their weaknesses or obsess over how to fix them. We believe you get the best return on your investment by focusing your attention on your strengths. The good news is that research backs up our belief. “Workplace survey data over decades reveals that people who play to their strengths every day are much more engaged, less likely to quit, and much more likely to contribute to high-performing teams.”

What if we learned to simply manage our weaknesses and spent most of our energy building on our strengths?

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