Everyone has weaknesses. I’ve taken a lot of time to study great leaders, business executives, and startup founders. One thing that is common among these groups is that they are all aware of their weaknesses. This acute sense of awareness, has uniquely allowed them to turn their weaknesses into strengths.
Identify Your Weaknesses
How do you harness this super power?
The most important step of this exercise is defining your weaknesses. This is a difficult process, but very important if you want to have a successful career. It’s hard to admit our own weak points, but managers seem to have no trouble pinpointing them. So grit your teeth and read through past performance reviews to learn what bosses are looking for as well as use these few tips to get started:
Ask Someone You Trust About Your Weaknesses – Most people find it difficult to give criticism almost as much as the receiving person hates to hear it, but this is an exercise to help you get ahead. Ask someone you trust such as, a friend, a family member, a manager, or even a trusted coworker. Tell them the reason you want to understand your weaknesses so that they are more candid with you.
What do You Find Hard to do? – Sometimes a weakness can be disguised as something you find unappealing. For example, I don’t really like math, but that’s because I find it so difficult. Try to search for things that you might not like to do, and ask yourself if it is because you truly dislike it or because you find it hard to do.
Complete a Personal SWOT Analysis – Originally developed for marketing, this is also a great way to assess your strengths and weaknesses. The biggest benefit of doing this is that you may uncover some things about yourself that you would not have spotted otherwise. When doing this exercise, make sure to think through the questions in both your eyes and how you think others see you.
Here is how a Personal SWOT Analysis works:
- Strengths – Write down a list of your personal strengths. Include things such as what do you do better than others and what advantages do you have over others.
- Weaknesses – List all of your weaknesses. Thing about things such as the tasks that you find difficult, personality traits that might hamper personal relationships, what do you think others perceive as your weaknesses.
- Opportunities – Opportunities are things that you can exploit to your advantage. Think in terms of trends, technology, things that you may be an expert in that others are not. Take a look at your strengths as these could very well end up being an opportunity.
- Threats – Sometimes, there are things on the horizon that could threaten your success such as new technologies, a coworker competing for the same job, or maybe even the industry is changing. Take a moment to think about any threats that could pose a hazard to your career.
You can create your own or use this handy worksheet from Mind Tools.
Overcompensation and Turning Your Weakness into a Strength
Once you’ve identified your weaknesses, it’s time to leverage them into strengths. There are three ways to go about this:
- Actively work to improve your lagging areas by taking courses, seminars, or tutorials.
- Assess your weaknesses, and see if it’s opposite can be identified as a strength
- Overcompensate – become so absurdly awesome at your strengths that your weakness cab be ignored or delegated to someone else
Improving Lagging Areas
When one of your weaknesses is something that you deem critical to a successful career, your best course of action may be to take action to improve the skill.
For example, growing up I knew that I wasn’t very good at presenting in front of groups. In light of that, I’ve taken steps to improve upon this very important skill. I took classes in Junior High, High School, College, and three presentation skills classes in my professional career. I’ve taken a weakness that I deemed critical to my professional success and actively worked to improve it.
Improving your skill set is a lifelong process that you should reevaluate once a year. What skills do you need? What skills do you need to improve?
Identifying Weaknesses as Strengths
Sometimes a perceived weakness hides some of your greatest strengths. Dave Kerpen, CEO of Likeable Local, wrote about this recently on his LinkedIn Blog. Dave came up with the a list of weaknesses and their corresponding (opposite) strengths.
Here are a few examples:
- Disorganized —> Creative
- Inflexible —> Organized
- Inconsistent —> Flexible
- Obnoxious —> Enthusiastic
- Shy —> Reflective
- Irresponsible —> Adventurous
- Intimidating —> Assertive
- Weak —> Humble
- Arrogant —> Self-Confident
While it’s true that you can uncover some of your greatest strengths by taking an in depth look at your weaknesses, you also may want to assess how to use your weakness to your advantage. By using Dave’s technique above, you can figure out how you will leverage this to your advantage.
Here are a few examples of this in action:
Weakness: You’re a horrible public speaker.
Strength: Become a great one-on-one speaker instead. Learn how to build relationships in small group and one-on-one situations. Use empathy to understand how others are feeling and reacting to your conversation, and use this to your advantage. Learn how to write clearly and effectively in order to write great emails.
Weakness: You are not a team player.
Strength: Be a leader. Urban Dictionary’s definition of a team player is, “Follower, not a mover and a shaker, compatable, submissive, not independent, Monkey see monkey do, agreeable, people pleaser, Employeers love this!” You could also consider becoming a consultant depending on your field.
Weakness: You’re impatient.
Strength: Be decisive. Leaders are able to make decisions, but have to willing to put their name on the line. Be the person who gets things done.
Weakness: You nitpick.
Strength: Become the reviewer and be a pseudo quality assurance expert. There are many positions where you have to review others work such as quotations, engineering designs, blue prints, debugging code, etc.
Weakness: You’re not good at long term planning.
Strength: Break projects down into smaller tasks, and become a master of the small picture. Execute timely and efficiently.
Over Compensate on Your Strengths
Working on lagging skills and finding your strengths are important, but sometimes it’s better to just know what you are good at and focus on your biggest strengths. Many business leaders have done this extremely well. By defining their most powerful strengths, they’ve learned over achieve in areas that almost negate the fact that they lack some skills in other areas.
One of my all-time business idols, Richard Branson struggled with his studies due to a severe case of dyslexia and a general inability to concentrate on his studies (I can totally relate).
Sir Richard’s teachers gave him a really hard time in school, but he essentially ignored them and went on to start Student Magazine when he was still in school. Through his magazine, he started selling mail order records. Soon, he recognized opportunity and opened up his first record store. He then went on to start Vigrin Records, which was really his big break. Branson, overcompensated on his early learning struggles by being acutely aware of opportunity and a fearless business sense.
Richard Branson has built an empire and according to Virgin, 8 companies worth a billion dollars each in eight separate countries all from scratch.
Steve Jobs was absolutely notorious for having no emotional intelligence when it came to dealing with his coworkers and employees, but there is no question that Steve overcompensated in his infinite desire for great design and product perfection.
With a little self-reflection and some honest feedback from friends, family, and coworkers, you can identify your own faults, but don’t let them stand as your defining features. Instead, flip them around and turn those liabilities into assets—for yourself and for your future employer.