Don’t Waste Time Fixing Your Weaknesses
Innovation. Collaboration. Growth. These words describe bestselling sales author and internationally respected business expert Ian Altman, who draws on his experience as a former CEO of two decades to help people and organizations achieve their business objectives. Through his energetic and interactive talks, Altman engages audiences from beginning to end to ensure they leave with actionable take-away messages they can immediately put into practice. Below, Ian writes for Forbes about the importance of focusing on your strengths, rather than your weaknesses:
No matter how much he trains, Shaquille O’Neal will never be a great jockey. He’s a world-class athlete, but he’ll also never be a great pole vaulter or top-ranked tennis player. But, he was a dominant basketball player. There are thousands of books that promise to teach you how to overcome your weaknesses. If you are an introvert, they can teach you how to appear more outgoing. If you are too technical, they can teach you how to appear less so. They even promise to take those with no leadership talent, and coach them to lead more effectively. The problem, however, is that the person who is a lousy leader, might become a mediocre leader. But, they are not likely to ever be as good of a leader as the person who comes to it naturally.
The Problem With Fixing Weaknesses
A right-handed hitter in baseball could be taught how to hit left handed, too. But, wouldn’t their time be better spent enhancing their hitting skills from their natural side? In almost every case, the answer is, “Yes.” Lisa Cummings, CEO of Pinch Yourself Careers is an expert at building on your strengths. Lisa explained, “We have to stop trying to teach fish to climb trees.”
Lisa shared Gallup research that demonstrates that employees who work in their strength zone are six times as engaged as their peers. Let’s face it, you are going to be happier and more engaged when you showcase your strengths compared to struggling through your less proficient talents.
Companies often come to me to teach their non-salespeople how to grow their business. What the senior executive often asks is how we can get the non-salespeople to change their personalities to act like stereotypical salespeople. I often smile and say “Yeah – because you LOVE being on the receiving end of a visit from a stereotypical salesperson, right?” Instead, we help the non-salespeople recognize which of their existing strengths they can magnify to achieve better results. Once the professionals realize that they don’t have to act like someone else, and they can behave with integrity, then engaging them to grow revenue becomes a painless process.
had the good fortune to appear as a guest on Lisa’s podcast. In addition to being a fantastic interviewer, Lisa has some brilliant ideas about personal and professional development:
Don’t Ignore Weaknesses Completely
When you focus on your strengths, it does not mean that you completely ignore areas for improvement. For example, technical specialists often share all of the information they have about a given topic. They’ll even share information that NOBODY, including the customer, wants to hear. The technical person has mastery of the details. Through education and guidance, they discover when to showcase that knowledge, and when to exercise restraint. Their strength is valuable, and it is magnified when applied at the right time. Let’s face it, if you knew when your words would have the greatest impact, you’d wait for that moment.
Build Teams Of Complementary Talents
Some people excel at detail and follow-up. Others have subject-matter expertise. Others might be great at building rapport. Finding professionals who are proficient at rapport, detail, and follow through is as common as finding unicorns. You could try and force subject-matter experts to be great at follow-up and rapport. Instead, consider building a team of members who value and leverage each other’s strengths. What if the subject-matter expert could be brought into a situation to solve a challenge, and an account manager handled follow-through with the client? What if the project manager defined and tracked the tasks, and pulled in the account manager and expert when needed? Each player would be more engaged than if you tried to force each to completely overcome and master their weak attributes.
No Free Passes
I’m not suggesting that you don’t try to compensate for deficiencies. It is essential that each individual understands their strengths and limitations. The subject-matter expert might need to appreciate how to be more approachable in meetings. The salesperson might need to recognize that they need to listen more and speak less. Each person might need to be sure not to drop the ball with their colleagues. The idea is to minimize the time spent in your respective weak zone, and instead focus as much time as possible in your areas of strength.
“There is a difference between mature and immature use of talent. The salesperson who sometimes has success and sometimes fails might have a hidden talent masquerading as a weakness. With proper attention, his weakness could become his greatest strength,” Says Cummings. She goes on to explain, “Just be careful that by focusing on strengths that you don’t let people use that as an excuse. Your top salesperson can’t say they don’t like technology, and that’s why they don’t enter their information into the CRM. That’s manipulation.”
When you magnify your strengths, you’ll get great return on your investment of time. When done properly, this also means that a modest improvement in your deficient areas can further enhance your powerful attributes. Instead of trying to teach fish to climb, focus on making them better swimmers.
It’s Your Turn
Where have you seen people be successful focusing on their strengths? Where have you seen a disaster in companies trying too hard to overcome weaknesses?