I’ve got some bad news for you: You have more weaknesses and fewer strengths than you realize. The old saying, “You can do anything you put your mind to,” sounds so uplifting and inspiring and yet is so wrong.
Let me say it another way: you can’t excel at everything you put your mind to. Take me, for example. I have very poor fine motor skills and would make a horrible surgeon (not to mention I don’t like the sight of blood.) Trust me, I failed completely at the game Operation.
Or let’s use sports, for instance. Professional athletes are highly gifted and skilled and yet, for most of them, their strength is only in a small area. The quarterback must be talented at recognizing and reading defenses and throwing the ball accurately. He doesn’t have to be the fastest runner or the best at catching passes.
And if that quarterback started trying to do more running or even catching passes, most fans would become frustrated because he is attempting to operate outside of his wheelhouse or his “strength zone.”
In sports, it’s pretty obvious when someone deters outside of the area of their strengths. However, in our professions and everyday life, it has become more acceptable. You probably see it all the time. People wear so many hats of responsibility and many of those “hats” are outside their strength zone.
How many times have you seen someone get promoted simply because they were excelling in their current job, only to fail miserably at the new one? Most of the time this happens because the new role doesn’t fit within their strengths zone.
There are great quarterbacks that don’t make good offensive coordinators or coaches. And there mediocre quarterbacks that make phenomenal offensive coordinators and coaches.
The reason is the strengths zone. I mentioned earlier that you have more weaknesses and fewer strengths than you realize, but the strengths you do have are more significant than you realize.
Live in Your Strengths Zone
In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins talks about the “hedgehog concept”. For those who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, think of Sonic the Hedgehog. Collins talks about how the hedgehog only does one thing well. He curls up into a ball when danger arises. The hedgehog knows that is his role and his best strength against adversity. He doesn’t try to fight, because in most cases that would mean failure.
For you and I, we need to figure out our “hedgehog concept.” What are those few things that we naturally do better than most people? Once we’ve narrowed that list down, we focus the majority of our effort on refining and perfecting those skills.
The Weakness Myth
Most people have been taught to focus on their weaknesses. Think of how many times you have heard the saying, “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” That’s true when it comes to chains but not quite accurate when it comes to people.
Everyone has weaknesses and I hate to break it to you, but most of your weaknesses will never be strengths. When we focus the majority of our effort on our weaknesses, we don’t get the best return on our investment of time and energy.
For example, let’s say you are weak in an area. You’d get a score of a 3 out of 10. You work really hard on this area and are able to improve it to a 6. That’s pretty significant to improve by three points. However, let’s say you have another area where you are an 8 out of 10. This is in your “strength zone.” You work really hard to refine this strength and move it to a 9. Even though that is only one point higher, that one point is more significant than the three points. Why? Because 9 is still greater than 6 and the points have more weight the higher you go up.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t focus any effort on your weaknesses, but I am advocating that you spend most of your time in your strength zone.
That is what the most people successful people do. They operate in their strengths zone and either delegate or hire out those responsibilities that are outside of it. Or they may even find ways to automate it so they don’t spend as much time in those areas.
If you want to be a great leader, you need to know your strengths zone and stay within it, even if that means turning down opportunities that would be financially lucrative but don’t fit within that zone.
Today’s game plan has two parts:
- Identify your top five strengths or natural abilities. A good (and helpful) exercise is to ask people around you what they would say your strengths are. Or use a strengths assessment tool. I highly recommend StrengthsFinder from Gallup.
- Create a plan on how you are going to intentionally develop and refine those five areas.