We all know people who are so organized that this becomes their defining characteristic. If we refer them for a position with our company we would highlight their attention to detail and that their ability to keep track of complex projects makes them an ideal candidate. But if we had to describe their weaknesses we would likely point to their rigid mindset and inability to deviate from their organizational systems.
While obtaining my MBA a teacher explained to us that a strength overdone becomes a weakness. At first I thought that was ridiculous. If we focus on our strengths and continue to grow and improve, it doesn’t mean they become weaknesses. But the truth is that if we overdo our strengths they do become weaknesses.
How can we make sure we don’t overdo our strengths and instead focus on growing and improving them? To find the answer I started to explore popular athletes, famous musicians, and military special forces members.
Professional athletes represent an elite group of individuals with physical and mental attributes that give them the opportunity to compete on the largest stages in the world. One athlete that I admire is Steve Young. Steve Young was a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. He is a Hall of Fame member which means that he represents the best of the best.
One of the things that made Steve Young so successful was his ability to get outside of the pocket when the play doesn’t go as planned. He was able to improvise and run better than most quarterbacks, even at the NFL level.
Today there are a large number of quarterbacks that represent that skill set. They have the ability to extend plays and scramble for more yards. Yet somehow most seem to struggle at the NFL level. Many of the experts argue that to be successful in the NFL they have to be able to escape the pocket and run when necessary but that their first option should always be to find a receiver downfield, which is the opposite response from what these individuals tend to do.
On one pre game show, Steve said that quarterbacks need to “work until it becomes reflexive recall.” He said that they needed to continue to work on the habits they will ultimately rely on during the game. He said to fine-tune those habits through practice to give them the best chance at successfully executing in the real game. This doesn’t mean strengthening their running ability, it means adjusting their habits to automatically respond with the best play, not necessarily following their strength.
Unfortunately too many athletic quarterbacks never develop the habits that will take them further in their career. Instead they rely on their strengths at the detriment of their overall performance. In order to grow strengths but not overdo them, you need to identify the key habits and work hard to make sure they represent the best movements, not just the comfortable movements.
I owned an audio engineering company for over 8 years working with all types of artists. The strength of most artists is the ability to be flexible and creative. Yet I have witnessed time and again that this creative mindset, when overdone, turns to a lackadaisical or overwhelmed attitude.
When it was time to get serious and focus on the task at hand, they had a very difficult time doing this. This left many projects half completed. They would tend to get so creative that they couldn’t narrow things down to make progress and eventually burn out. As an audio engineer I would usually try to get them to make small decisions throughout the process rather than waiting until the end when they are overwhelmed.
The key is to understand this natural tendency of someone who is very creative and then adjust the habits to make sure they are not overdoing it. A key that I look for is to ask “is this strength causing them to struggle in other important areas?” If the answer is yes, then they need to work to improve their strengths but also account for their weaknesses to make sure they don’t interfere with their ability to succeed.
Military Special Forces
One of the groups that I started to explore stood out to me quickly as one that seems to grow their strengths without overdoing them. Military special forces are able to accomplish incredible tasks and be extremely precise in how they execute. Yet they can’t truly account for every possible situation that might occur.
How are they able to be so rigid in their tactics yet so flexible at the same time? How can they follow such a disciplined path but still account for all of the variables associated with war?
The more I study this group the more I realize that it is because they train for every possible situation that could arise. They don’t just train for things that go perfectly. They incorporate random changes in their training to account for those unpredictable variables that they may encounter.
The best NFL football teams usually exemplify their ability to prepare. They prepare and prepare and in doing so they encounter variances. These variances help them to understand the many variables that are outside of their control.
When I was in high school I remember playing on the football team and helping the offense practice their plays. On defense we would emulate the opposing defense to give the offense the chance to practice going against what they would see on game day.
Often a coach would approach someone on the scout defense and ask them to do something unusual. It may be to charge upfield instead of getting into pass coverage or it may be to change the coverage at the last second. The goal was to see how the offense would respond to these unusual and unpredictable actions. The result would become a valuable lesson for the offense and present a simulated level of adversity.
The reality is that we all face adversity. Adversity gives us the variance to truly grow and improve without overdoing our strengths. Through adversity, whether real or simulated in training, we grow.
The ability to grow and improve doesn't come without risk. There is a great risk that we will cling to our strengths and overdo them. This creates areas of weakness. Instead of focusing on simply improving our strengths and relying on them, understand how over reliance on our strengths could cause us to develop weaknesses. If we can grow our strengths but still address our weaknesses we will be much better prepared and more likely to succeed.