Do you know what your strengths and weaknesses are? They may not be what you think…
I came across a video via Lean In by Marcus Buckingham recently that had an interesting perspective on what strengths/weaknesses really are and how to use them in order to be successful — either at a job or as a business owner.
Most people, when asked, would say that strengths are what you are good at while weaknesses are what you’re bad at.
Buckingham argues that these definitions are not helpful. Think, aren’t there things you can do well, that you absolutely hate to do, prefer to avoid, or feel drained by? By the common definition of strength, if one were to focus on their strengths (including those activities you hate to do), it’s entirely possible that you could end up with a career you will eventually hate or that will burn you out! It is a fallacy to think of strength as synonymous with performance.
Buckingham proposes that:
Strength is not what you’re good at and a weakness is not what you’re bad at.
Instead, a strength is an activity that strengthens you AND
A weakness is an activity that weakens/drains you… even if you’re good at it.
Here is a SIGN of a strength:S uccess: You feel effective or in control (self efficacy)
I nstincts: Before you do the activity, you instinctively look forward to the activity, and positively anticipate it
G rowth: While you’re doing the activity, it’s like you feel your brain growing, time is speeding up and you engage in rapid learning
N eed: The activity, once completed, fulfills a need of yours. You might be tired but you’re not drained. You’re fulfilled!
So ask yourself again, what are your strengths?
Schools and jobs have trained us into thinking that we should focus on fixing our weaknesses rather than building on our strengths. When you brought home your grades when you were younger, did your parents/teachers hone in on your good or your not-so-good grades? The last time you had a performance review with your supervisor, how much time was spent on discussing what you could improve? Only thirty percent of women (ages 25-55), when asked, “which should you focus on more, building your strengths or fixing your weaknesses?”, responded that they should focus on building on their strengths. I was struck most by this insight: “Maybe we are more fearful of our weaknesses that we are honoring of our strengths.”
The geek/scientist in me was intrigued that brain science supports the approach of building on your strengths. It turns out that it is easier to grow new synaptic connections (i.e. learn) in areas of the brain where you have the most pre-existing synaptic connections. To do otherwise would take more effort and energy and be much less efficient. While I knew this brain fact before I saw this video, I hadn’t made the connection to what that means in terms of strengths and weaknesses. “You will learn and grow the most in the areas where you already have some natural advantage,” Buckingham stated.
While it would be great to ONLY focus on our strengths, we may not have the license to simply ignore our weaknesses (especially if it’s part of our jobs!). Here are some suggestions the video gave for managing your weaknesses (activities that drain you) aka STOPS:Stop doing it and see if anyone cares! — (simplistic but tempting, no?)
Team up with someone. Everyone is different and it’s likely that someone out there is invigorated by activities that drain you. (Your strength might be their weakness!)
Offer up your strengths until it’s so focused, sharp and valuable that your turn the best of your work/career into most of your work/career.
Perceive your weaknesses through the lens of one of your strengths. E.g. I actually dislike networking/self-promotion but if I perceive it as learning/researching (my strength) about a person or a business, every conversation with someone new presents that opportunity and I actually enjoy it. (And it’s usually a much better conversation than it would have been).
Suck it up and do it! (and eventually get better at it and maybe even enjoy it)
This “new” perspective on strengths and weaknesses is especially relevant to entrepreneurs/business owners/managers for 2 reasons:
1) Higher personal productivity: Knowing/focusing on your strengths will make it easier to continually improve and benefit from them. You’ll be more productive and efficient, enjoy yourself more, and learn more effectively. Knowing your weaknesses can inform you on what activities you should abandon, delegate, redesign or automate.
2) Higher business productivity: By understanding and learning to identify strengths/weaknesses and knowing the skill gaps in your business, you can actively seek people (partners/staff/contractors) to fill roles that maximize their individual strengths, increasing not just productivity, but morale, motivation and learning.
I’d love to learn what you think are your actual strengths and weaknesses (AND how you would reframe your weaknesses to perceive / use it as a strength). Please share in the comments below!
If you’re curious, here’s the link to the video: http://leanin.org/education/know-your-strengths-own-your-strengths-no-one-else-will/ (you may need to sign up, which I highly recommend).