It’s very fashionable these days to focus on strengths and ignore weaknesses, and in the main this is a good thing. But it doesn’t mean that you just need to find your top one or two strengths and focus on them to the exclusion of all else. If you do that, you risk falling off the edge on one of two ways – by overuse of those strengths, or by ignoring relevant weaknesses.

Overusing Strengths

Do you overuse your favourite strength or skill? For example, do you marinate yourself in your deep and narrow field of expertise? Or do you always rush to help people, whatever the circumstances? Because our strengths are, by definition, the things we love, and they come from doing activities that make us lose track of time, there is a real temptation to go further and further into the strength and to rely on it in an increasing range of situations.

For me, my love of learning is a great asset in my business – but I need to be ever-mindful of my tendency to keep learning and learning, without taking that learning back into the world. (And of course, it all takes time that could better be spent on other tasks!)

Academic researchers are divided on whether this approach is always a bad thing. But all agree that relying on only one strength is not useful – if you expand your favourites list to about five strengths, you are are on much more solid ground as you develop deeper skills in these areas. 

Over-relying on one or two strengths can lead to:

• Burnout

• Becoming lopsided or one-dimensional, which often leads to…

• …Irritating or boring other people

• Lack of adaptability to changing circumstances, or not enough flexibility to move between different work tasks

• Selling yourself short – who knows what you could do if you unpacked some of your other strengths as well?

Ignoring Relevant Weaknesses

It’s true that you will get much further in your career by polishing your strengths than by trying to compensate for your weaknesses. But there is an exception, and that’s in the area of those weaknesses that are central to your work and which are holding you back. 

It may be that you are a gifted verbal negotiator, but struggle to convey your thoughts on paper in your final reports. Or that you are great at logical analysis, but not so good with presenting your results in a meeting. For me, it’s all abut the numbers and the detail (not my thing…). If a weakness is all that stands between you and your next big promotion, you need to adopt one of these strategies:

• Do a short course, read a book or get some hands-on help to lift your skills

• Find a strength through which you can create a work-around that will adequately bridge the gap. Following the above examples, perhaps our gifted verbal negotiator could dictate their reports and then type them up? 

• Enter into an alliance with someone in your team, who has the strength you lack, and who would benefit from your way of looking at the world. Perhaps our logical analyst could connect with an extroverted presenter?

Remember, it’s only necessary to work with those weaknesses that are holding you back – and only to the extent needed to allow your strengths to shine!

Joanna Maxwell


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