In hundreds of workshops and coaching conversations, leaders have heard me say:
“You’ll be more successful and satisfied if you build on your strengths — rather than turning yourself inside out to develop a skill in which you have neither aptitude nor interest.”
Validated by many scientists and management gurus, this is the key message in the runaway bestseller StrengthsFinder by Tom Rath, designed to help people identify their top five “talents”. Its companion assessment and personal report are very compelling. I found my own results very accurate — although admittedly I relished the absence of criticism!
BUT (as much as I abhor that word…)
Some individuals have morphed this concept into believing that all they need to do to be successful is find a career or role that plays to their strengths and ignore their weaknesses. Wrong!
Revealed in the 360° results of leaders I’ve recently coached, they’ve had weaknesses such as:
- Lack of self-awareness: doesn’t know himself/herself well, e.g. impact on others
- Poor command skills: reluctance to take charge when the going gets tough
- Coaching direct reports: doesn’t push people to grow, learn and develop
- Interpersonal skills: poor relationship-building and conflict management skills
- Presentation skills: lack of audience analysis and ability to manage anxiety
What did the 360° respondents have to say about the impact of these development needs?
They described these weaknesses as career stallers and obstacles to their career progression.
So when I advise my clients to build on strengths I always follow up with this statement:
- Make sure you know yourself: your weaknesses and your blind spots
- Determine if these are impacting your current results
- Validate your perceptions with others whose opinion you value
- Take action where your weaknesses are negatively impacting your performance/career progression
- Armed with this knowledge, evaluate future opportunities and roles: What areas play to your strengths? What areas could be a liability? What can you do to mitigate the impact? In what context can you be most successful?