For some reason, it’s popular to tell people that they should focus on their strengths and ignore their weaknesses. This is terrific advice . . . in context, anyway.
My strengths are in sales and marketing. I care deeply about financials, but I am not a CFO, an accountant, or a bookkeeper. Focusing on my strengths means that I should focus on a few lines of the P&L, and not on the work of putting the P&L together. This is an example of what people mean when they offer this advice that you should focus on your strengths.
If you don’t focus on minimizing your real weaknesses, they will be your undoing.
Lack of Self-Discipline
If you lack self-discipline, and you decide that willing yourself to take action is not your strong suit, this weakness will destroy your ability to produce anything more than mediocre results in business and in life. This is a fundamental law of the universe. Success will elude you. You think this is a weakness you can ignore? Do you accept or admire this weakness in others?
Low Emotional Intelligence
Let’s say you aren’t the caring type. You have low EQ. You are self-oriented and care only about getting what you want. Maybe you want to offset this weakness with your super high IQ. Unless you are a two-year old, who can be excused for their behavior as they figure out how to deal with discovering that they are an individual, this weakness will massively limit your success.
You’ve been taught to answer the interview question, “What is your weakness,” with something about how you wish you were more organized. A lack of organization is either a lack of discipline, or it is a lack of caring about keeping your commitments to other people. In both cases, it isn’t a weakness that you can overlook.
If you have a pessimistic, defeatist attitude, you may absolve yourself of responsibility for your attitude by suggesting you are a “realist,” or some such thing. You will still produce poorer results than you are capable of, and it will destroy your ability to lead or inspire others to take action. No one succeeds or leads with believing in a better future. Pessimism is weakness, especially in a leader.
Lack of Resourcefulness
Maybe your weakness is that you believe you lack creativity. You aren’t resourceful, and you wait passively for someone to give you the ideas you need to reach your goals or help your clients to reach theirs. It doesn’t really matter what your strength is, but it won’t be enough to offset this weakness in the Disruptive Age. You can’t be proactive and take initiative without ideas. You can learn to exercise your creativity by sitting down with a legal pad and a pen for one hour in the morning (see Earl Nightingale).
Unwilling to Prospect
One salesperson told me his strength was being in front of prospective customers and his weakness was prospecting. I asked him how he planned to get in front of those customers. He said that it would be great if someone else could do the dirty work for him. I argued that his exceptional business acumen made him the right person to do that work. He argued that it might be nice to have someone with his business acumen make those calls for him. I recommended that it might be better for me to hire that person for the job I was hiring him for, if they had his same chops.
Lack of Business Acumen
Let’s say your strength is prospecting, but you lack the chops, the real business acumen and situational knowledge you need to make a difference for your customer. Does that sound like a weakness you can live with? Does that sound like a weakness your clients are going to be willing to live with? Hardly. Without business acumen, you will never create enough value to be relevant for most roles, and your career will be severely limited.
Shore Up Your Weaknesses
There are some human attributes that you need to have as strengths in order to succeed, to produce the results that you are capable of, and to do meaningful work in line with your greater purpose. You can’t overlook your weaknesses in important areas, and you cannot decide that playing to your strengths will be enough to offset them. In fact, if you are unaware of your weaknesses, you are already paying a price, whether or not you know it.
A visionary leader without the ability to execute is a dreamer. A leader with the ability to execute and no vision is a weak manager, at best.
A smart person with no energy is a bore. An energetic person with no brains is an entertaining train wreck.
Play to your strengths. Shore up your weakness, before they make a mockery of your strengths.