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Should you look to build on your strengths or fix your weaknesses?

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Should you look to build on your strengths or fix your weaknesses?

Scott Miker

We all have strengths and weaknesses.  Nobody is perfect so there are always things that can be considered strength and things that can be considered weak.

I had a former college professor tell us “a strength overdone becomes a weakness.”  At first I was surprised by such a statement but have since realized the wisdom in those words. 

The idea was that the highly detailed person usually has the weakness that they are too rigid.  The creative person often is thought of as having too little discipline.  But what we are doing is actually just finding the opposite of their strength and then explaining the benefits of that position. 

If we look to individuals that we judge as highly successful we usually can spot examples of weaknesses that overtook the strengths and times that they leveraged the strengths they had in order to achieve great success.

Professional athletes tend to focus on their strengths.  They know their particular skillset and what they are good at.  There tends to be clearly defined positions and roles that players gravitate to, many times spending their entire career in that role. 

Pitchers in professional baseball tend to remain pitchers, linemen in the NFL don’t usually play kick returner, and there isn’t much crossover from point guard to center in basketball.  This isn’t a hard and fast rule but the skillset and strengths around one position tend to be hindrances in another. 

So should the offensive linemen focus on catching punts since that is probably a weakness?  No that would be ridiculous.  To have the most success they have to continue to improve on the things that they are already really good at.

But professional athletes also provide examples of when we should focus on our weaknesses.  Time and time again we hear about a professional athlete getting in trouble for their actions off the field.  Spending your entire career maximizing aggressiveness might lead to the inability to control one’s emotions away from the sport.  Ignoring poor financial habits while they millions of dollars might not be an issue, but once the income stops and they retire poor financial habits could become crippling. 

Usually these weaknesses hide from view for a while.  We don’t notice them and only see the great success they gain from maximizing their strengths.  But time and time again we see these things arise.  It might be at retirement that we realize the talented athlete has horrible leadership skills.  Or, aside from being athletic, they don’t have the life skills in order to succeed anywhere else. 

So the question we should ask is “should we look to improve our own strengths or focus on improving our weaknesses?”

This isn’t a cut and dry answer.  We actually have to understand both and use our intuition and feedback from others in order to grow. 

Recently I started a program at work where we ask our staff about their strengths.  Instead of shifting to weaknesses, we simply ask where there are opportunities to improve.  This could be to tackle a weakness that is holding them back or it could be to continue to grow a particular strength that they have.

To me this is a great place to start because it allows for both types of improvement – leveraging our strengths but addressing our weaknesses.  It does it in a way that simply focuses on improving and getting better.

So look at both areas and ask yourself where you can have the most impact by addressing.  Is it to fix a weakness that keeps holding you back?  Is it to grow something truly unique and valuable about yourself that can take you down a path few can actually travel because most don’t have that skillset?  Or is it a combination of both so that you can continue to leverage the valuable skillsets you have and address potential pitfalls from areas that aren’t used in that arena?