How to Distinguish Between Weaknesses and Liabilities

There is a difference between your weaknesses and your liabilities. When people tell you to focus on your strengths and don’t spend any time on your weaknesses, the word “weakness” means things for which you lack natural talent. It doesn’t mean that you don’t need to do something about your liabilities, as ignoring them will harm your results.

Play to Your Strengths

You may be excellent at client conversations, something that allows you to succeed in sales. But you might be just awful at finance and accounting. Other people might be great with numbers, discerning what’s essential with little more than a cursory glance at a spreadsheet. Those same people may be horrified at the prospect of leading a client conversation.

You need to assess your strengths and weaknesses, working to understand where you should spend your time—and where you shouldn’t.

If your skills suggest your strengths are in sales, you will do well to do that kind of work. Your assessment may show that not only are you horrible at finance and accounting but that you also despise the work. While it wouldn’t hurt you to understand a Profit & Loss statement and a Balance Sheet, there is no significant benefit from you learning to do accounting work.

Your strengths and weaknesses are essential to your long-term success and your satisfaction. Here it’s important to note that this doesn’t mean that you can ignore your liabilities.

Your Liabilities

Liabilities are something different than a weakness. They’re something that will cause you to struggle, fail, and produce lesser results than you are capable of generating. These are things that are going to harm you if you don’t do something about them.

Let’s say you are a salesperson who happens to be habitually late. As such, you never prepare for any meeting, and because you are tardy, people believe you are a scatterbrain who can’t be trusted to keep their commitments. Your contacts also think that hiring you is going to end up with them being embarrassed by your performance.

Your inability to manage yourself is a weakness of a different kind. In this case, it is a liability.

Maybe you are a leader with a team that is struggling to meet their commitments. You want them to trust and respect you, but you also want them to like you and enjoy working with you. To make sure these things are true, you avoid conflict, one of the root causes of your team’s poor performance.

Your weakness here is a liability because it destroys your ability to hold people accountable, and you feel as if your team is walking all over you. Leaving this liability unaddressed harms your company, your clients, and the people in your charge.

Improving your results means eliminating your liabilities, not your weaknesses in areas that aren’t central to your role and your responsibilities.

Go First. Grow First.

Someone once said, “The speed of the team is the speed of the leader.” Your people and their results are a reflection of your leadership. You want your team to grow and succeed, and they will become what you are as a leader. The rule in leadership is to lead, to go first, to serve as an example.

Not only should you go first, but you should also grow first. Once you have identified your liabilities, you need to improve in that area until it is no longer a liability. There are several ways you might work on your liabilities. You can get training, hire a coach, read four books on the area of your weakness, read enough blog posts that you can write a plan for your improvement, and make time to practice.

As you work on your personal growth, you can lead and inspire your team to develop, eliminating their liabilities, improving their results, and moving ever closer to their full potential, a much better strategy than treating liabilities the same as you would a weakness.

While there is a very high likelihood that you can reach your full potential despite your weaknesses, it’s unlikely you can become the best version of yourself if you do nothing about your liabilities. Your liabilities can prevent success. The best personal development plan will have you working on improving on your strengths, areas you can always improve, while also working to eliminate the things you do—or don’t do—that make reaching your goals more difficult.

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