We use the CliftonStrengths tool in training and coaching to help people gain a greater awareness of their natural talents and turn them into strengths. It is a powerful tool that shines a light on the things that we do really well which we tend to not be able to recognise for ourselves or may take for granted. The CliftonStrengths philosophy says that your key to success lies in discovering and applying your natural talents. A talent plus knowledge and skills will become a strength.
A strength is the ability to consistently provide near-perfect performance in a
We love to talk about strengths and focussing on your strengths is how you will achieve personal and professional fulfillment, success and happiness. When we talk about strengths though that doesn’t mean that we completely ignore weaknesses. We all have weaknesses, we can’t deny or ignore that and in coaching much time is spent on discussing weaknesses and how they can be overcome to achieve success.
A ‘weakness’ is a shortage or misapplication of talent, skill, or knowledge that causes problems for you or others.
Before we come to what to do about weaknesses there are a few fundamentals that are important to understand.
· You will never excel in an area of weakness
Your weaknesses are weaknesses for a reason. They are things that do not come naturally to, things that are alien to you or that you struggle to understand. If you think about your own weaknesses that you have, they are probably things that have been with you for a long time. This weakness is never suddenly going to become an area of exceptional strength for you. The geeky, non-sporty science kid from school did not grow up to become a pro athlete, the socially inept, unempathetic friend from collage is not now a charming politician. People generally do not undergo major transformations in life where the thing that held them back is now their greatest source of strength. We can all of course grow and improve but you will not completely transform your entire set of skills and personality. * When you work on improving your weaknesses you will see incremental improvements and you will get better! However, it will take you a lot longer to see only small gains. When you invest in your strengths learning is enjoyable and fast and you see infinite improvements.
*As a caveat to this there are some instances where people do find strength where there was once weakness. I can think of several Toastmasters winners who were completely unable to give presentations before. What I would suggest is happening here is that the underlying talent was always there the individual just hadn’t figured out a way to access it or had the confidence to express it. Everyone is unique and goes on a different strengths development journey, that is why we recommend coaching to discover, explore and apply your strengths to their maximum potential.
· A weakness may be hidden from your awareness
In coaching you come across people who have clear weaknesses that they cannot see or do not perceive as a weakness. It is important to remember that a weakness is a weakness when it causes problems for you or others. You might have weaknesses that causes problems for others and you are closed off to seeing this impact. An important part of strengths development is opening your eyes to the things about you that frustrate, impede or weaken others. This requires self-reflection and being willing to see yourself in new ways. One way to achieve this is through gaining honest and direct feedback from others. This can be from someone you are close to and have a good relationship with or via a confidential 360 feedback survey. What is important is that you are prepared to receive the feedback that others have for you and not get defensive or agitated. Having a strong awareness of your strengths does better prepare you for open feedback about your weaknesses!
· Weaknesses become clearer over time
You might not be fully aware of all your weaknesses right now or even when you read your report. The CliftonStrengths report is a starting point for your understanding of yourself. Use what is in the report and what you see in your real-life experiences to enrich your understanding of yourself, your strengths and your weaknesses. Different weaknesses can become evident in different situations or at different times in your life. Some weaknesses might not show up in your life right now or you might not be ready to see them. The process of development is an iterative one that takes on a unique journey for each individual.
· Just because you can’t do something doesn’t make it a weakness
We all have things we can’t do, gaps in our skills and knowledge and things we have just never been taught. There is a story Richard Branson tells about been in a meeting with some investors and not quite grasping what they were saying. One of his employees took him to one side and helpfully explained the difference between gross and net profit to him through a helpful diagram of fish inside and outside of a net. Now, this wasn’t early in Richard’s career, he was in his 50s and negotiating a multi-million-dollar sale of a business. Had this lack of knowledge in this area got in the way of his success? Clearly not! Richard is someone who understands the value of putting the right people in the right positions and would have always has good numbers guys to deal with the details of profit margins! So just because you have a gap in your knowledge or skills it does not mean that thing will necessarily be a weakness for you.
Strategies for Dealing with your Weaknesses
1. Find an Alternative Strength to use
There are multiple ways to reach goals and more than one way to do a task. We can get stuck in thinking that we need to do things the same way as everyone else because they are having success and seeing result right? However, what works for one person won’t necessarily work for you. Take sales as an example. I have witnessed a wide variety of sales styles that work for each individual person. Some sales people are charming and strong networkers and influencers. They achieve their targets because of their vast network of contacts and high energy. I have observed other successful sales people who achieve their targets through building close and deep relationships with people. Others use their strong problem-solving skills to fully understand the client’s issues. I could go on. Once you start trying to imitate someone else you will stall. You can’t perform as well as them in that area because it is not your talent. So, figure out what strengths you have in your tool kit that you can use and then figure out how to apply them to the task you need to get done. CliftonStrengths describes HOW we do something not WHAT we do, so there is always an alternative way to achieve your goal.
Once you start trying to imitate someone else you will stall.
2. Find a Complimentary Partner
We work with others for a reason. Our colleagues bring alternative strengths and perspectives that we just don’t have. Sometimes the inclination can be to want to work with people who are similar to us. This can feel nice but ultimately won’t add as much value as if we seek out someone who is strong where we are weak. Seek out your true complimentary partners by looking for people who have skills that you just don’t have. Seek to understand more about their strengths and how you could both help each other. Through your differing perspectives you will open each-others eye to your respective blind spots. You can help each other to make better decisions, be more productive and have more impact with your work.
For example, let’s say you are lacking in empathy – you are unable to sense the emotions of others and tend to speak your mind with little thought of the impact on others. You could enlist a complimentary partner to help you deliver messages in a softer way.
Strength lies in differences, not in similarities. -Stephen Covey
3. Improve it
This is your last resort. If you really do need to be better at that thing then you can improve it. Do this if it is getting in the way of you achieving your goals and there is no partner you can engage and no way to use an alternative strength or do it a different way. Know that you will never excel in this area, but you can see small incremental improvements. Don’t spend to long focussing on this area as you could waste a lot of time.
If we take the Empathy example again, it isn’t realistic to have your complimentary partner with you all of time. The best step would be to identify an alternative strength. I have seen people use strengths such as Individualization, Learner, Input and Analytical to help compensate for their lack of empathy. It might be the case that as well as using another strength it is going to help you to build some skills in picking up emotional cues of others. It might be worth spending some time focussing on the emotional signals that others are sending you and adapting your message accordingly. Just know that you will never excel at this and it is not worth you spending hours and hours on it!