For 20 years or so that people have been saying “You get further by building on your strengths than trying to improve your weaknesses.”
This certainly sounds terrific. It’s the kind of sorta-counter-intuitive thing that appeals to our inner rationalization engine.
I went to look for actual research data on this. I can find articles and a few books, but none cite anything like a formal analysis of real-world data. (Please point me to it if you know where it is.)
I’m beginning to think this phrase is like the origin of “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” Stephen Covey popularized it but something similar was said centuries ago, and people made fun of political rhetoric that sounded like “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing” but never got anything useful done.
You should know your strengths. You should build on them, sharpen them.
But if your assessment of what is required to be effective means your strengths aren’t enough, then you must soberly go about improving your weaknesses.
Some weaknesses are derailers. They’re just enough to pull you off the tracks before you get to successful execution of the larger objectives.
Some weaknesses aren’t derailers but are disqualifiers. There is no strength in an area required for success in this role. You can’t lead at the right level in this situation without producing more strengths.
Identify your weaknesses. Describe them well, with detail. (Bonus tip: get help from others you trust.)
Weaknesses are usually in these categories:
- Lack of knowledge or specific skill
- Limited experience beyond reading and talking about it
- Poor performance of a skill
- Inconsistent performance at the necessary level
- Lack of formal certification or degree that (someone believes) is required
Next: Become clear about what improvement is needed. What specific work is required to get there? What is the standard? How will you know if you’re making progress?
Finally: Learn, practice, and train to perform better. Build reinforcing habits and rhythms.
Understand that this “weakness improvement requirement” is easy to acknowledge, easy to imagine, and immensely difficult to execute. The path to improvement runs through the valley of unpleasantness. Get the support group around you that you need to help keep on track. Use accountability to your advantage.
I’ll close with a small rant: Don’t call your weaknesses “opportunities.” Don’t be that soft on yourself.