Is focusing on our weaknesses worth the trouble?

I was talking with a colleague a few week ago – and he had decided to take some aggressive action to make progress in his life.  He started by asking those close to him to give him 2 lists:  his top  5 core strengths and his top 5 key weaknesses. 

My first thought was, how courageous. 

I’ve done similar things before, and I’m not sure I’d go out and do it again.  Oh, I’ll bite the bullet and ask for strengths, but it takes more courage to ask for weaknesses other people see in me.  I mean, I know I have them, and others know I have them – so do we need to talk about them?

Lately though, I’ve begun to wonder.  Is it worth our effort and energy to focus on removing or overcoming our weaknesses?  Or does that detract from focusing on developing and learning to leverage our strengths and skills? 

As human beings, living on earth, we have a finite supply of time and energy.  And most people I know are trying to figure out how to leverage and make the most of both in their lives.  So, I wonder, if we focus on our weaknesses, and dealing with those, are we really just getting in our way? Is  focusing on the weaknesses just another form of distraction from our real goals?

If we focus on learning to manage and control and use our strengths, our skills, effectively in all circumstances, would that move us closer to where we want to be, to whom we want to be?  If we focus on our strengths, will the weaknesses go away? or become less disabling?  without direct attention? 

Personally, I find for myself and my clients, focusing on strengths is where our power, enthusiasm, and energy come from.  Focusing on our weaknesses tends to be disappointing, depressing, and draining.  Focusing on the weaknesses also tends to provide excuses for not moving ahead, for not living or having the life we want.  However, focusing on strengths – that’s empowering.  Dare I say it, satisfying. 

I have spent a lifetime looking at both strengths and weaknesses, of individuals, groups, systems, organizations.  Its easy to say “this is broken, fix it”.  Its more challenging to say “this is good, how do we make it better, use it more effectively.” And now, I’m wondering, does the real power to change truly lie in our strengths, and focusing our efforts there?

What do you think?

3 comments to Is focusing on our weaknesses worth the trouble?

  • Linda McCarrin

    I am a life coach as well and have pondered writing about our weaknesses being our greatest strengths. For ex. if a person is shy, that characteristic may not work in corporate America, but if they are good observers of others or others’ work, they may be able to choose a partner for themselves in life better than someone who is so frenetically busy that they may not notice what or in this case who they are getting into. Also, what seems like a weakness in me to my children come out as great strengths to some of my friends. If I tell my kids “the way it is” they, as young adults don’t like it, however, some friends and other relatives thank me for it. It’s all in the perception…and the interpretation…as soon as we start interpreting others…we have a breakdown…in belonging and communication. If we come from curiosity, which is something my adult children cannot do when it comes to some of my viewpoints, our communication breaks down. If the whole world could be more curious about others instead of interpreting one another, we might not have the wars we are engaged in.

  • It is interesting to consider that for strengths or weaknesses – it may depend on how we use them – that determines how they are perceived. I have often that when we over use our strengths – take them to an extreme – we turn it into a weakness.

    I do think we have strengths – clear and definable strengths. And our set of strengths is uniquely ours. The trick is to learn how to use them, how to build on them, how to leverage them. Knowing that we are a good observer of others – we can use that to gather information and determine how to act. We can use that alone or in groups.

    And I still think – perhaps trying to eliminate weaknesses – may be a bit of a distraction…

  • Ed Pawlak

    I doubt that I will ever become perfect. Furthermore, I am skeptical that I will be able to turn a weakness into a strength. That means the most likely outcome of working on one of my weaknesses will be to become mediocre in a new area. Not a very inspiring goal.

    On the other hand, if I do things that make use of my strengths, I may be able to occasionaly do something that makes a difference. Peter Drucker, the famed management guru emphasized this point in his books. (That’s where I originally came across this approach.)

    Here are a couple quotes from Drucker:

    “Use feedback analysis to identify your strengths. Then go to work on improving your strengths. Identify and eliminate bad habits that hinder the full development of your strengths. Figure out what you should do and do it. Finally, decide what you should not do.”

    “Know your strengths. Apply them to areas in your organisation where you can make a contribution. Make sure your values and the values of the organisation are compatible.”

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Lori makes it so easy to pinpoint. One time we were speaking about something else and we both realized...OMG...that is a core value for me. I hadn't written it down before, but discovered later that if ever a core value fit was the one I mentioned at that time.  Knowing that piece of information also answered a long standing question in my head.  One of the "why's" as to my constant upset with other places I had worked.

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