BY MINDA ZETLIN @MINDAZETLIN
We usually focus on our strengths. Try focusing on weaknesses instead.
What are your biggest weaknesses?We all have them, but as successful people, we’ve trained ourselves to look away from them. We focus on our strengths. We conceal or work around our weak spots. We admit to as few personal failings as we can.
That’s the usual path to success. But while writing a column about the core skills of entrepreneurship, I came across this piece of advice: Know your own weaknesses. The more I’ve thought about it since, the more I’ve come think how wise that is. Our strengths help us get where we’re going, but if we don’t fully understand and account for our own weaknesses, we won’t be able to sustain success over the long term.
It also got me thinking about my own biggest weaknesses. I’m too slow to make decisions (one friend says that I think things through carefully and then think some more). I’m extremely reluctant to take risks. And I often fail to reach out to people or communicate what I’m thinking.
Just recognizing these things doesn’t change them. But it does give me the chance to consider my own failings and try to compensate for them in my day to day dealings. For instance, I’m trying to learn to make decisions more quickly, and to take a chance once in a while.
What about you–what weaknesses are getting in your way? I know we’re not supposed to dwell on them or tell others about them, but just for a moment, take a good look at your own biggest failings, and how they may be affecting your career:
1. Think of five things that didn’t go the way you wanted.
Write them down if you like. Then ask yourself this question: Is there a common element among them? Was there any weakness of yours that contributed to the negative result?
2. Is the reason things went wrong familiar to you?
Most of us are tripped up by the same weaknesses again and again. I know I am. Looking back at my career both as a writer and as a leader of ASJA, I see how the same tendency to over-cautiousness has clipped my wings many times over the years. Is there something like that getting in your way again and again?
3. How might things have been different?
What would have happened differently if you didn’t have that weakness, or were able to overcome it? Would the negative outcome have been more positive? I can think of several instances where picking up the phone and talking things out with someone might have saved a situation before it went bad.
4. Can you get help with your weakness?
I know I’m too reticent about conflict, so when I became president of ASJA, I emailed two board members whose wisdom and willingness to stand against groupthink I’ve admired. My email was a simple invitation to share their opinions with me and tell me when they thought I was going wrong. Both have done so, and they’ve each given me valuable advice and insight during my term. They’ve helped me avoid making big mistakes.
That’s an important thing to remember: You can ask for help from your colleagues and business partners and you can hire people with skills that fill in what you lack. Getting assistance from someone else is a perfectly legitimate and very effective way to overcome a weakness.
5. How is that weakness serving you?
We grow our personal weaknesses for good reasons. In my case, I was raised by busy working parents and my father was one of the least communicative people I’ve every known. I learned to take care myself and retreated behind the written word, where I’m still hiding today.
So I’m much more comfortable sending an email, a tweet, a text, a line of chat, a Facebook comment, or even a postcard than I am phoning people up. I always imagine that they’re busy and I’ll be disturbing them.
6. How would things be different if you could let it go?
We all know how hard it is to let go of unneeded thought processes and failings. I try to imagine for a moment how my life and career would look today if I had taken more chances and knocked on more doors. It’s a challenge at which I fail more often than I succeed. But imagining how things could be different encourages me to keep trying.