Letting Go of Our Weaknesses is Really Hard

Two readers recently posted comments voicing the common struggles many people have in letting go of weaknesses when developing leadership effectiveness.

One reader responded to Zenger Folkman’s Harvard Business Review blog Three Myths About Your Strengths by naming a fourth myth as focusing on your strengths means you can ignore your weaknesses. He went on to declare a widely shared belief: “You also need to acknowledge your weaknesses and take the steps to improve them. Although focusing on your strengths can position you as a high achiever in certain areas, ignoring your weaknesses can be damaging to your reputation in other areas.

Our research clearly shows that focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses leads to leaders being rated 2 – 3 times higher in their effectiveness 18 – 24 months later in follow up 360 assessments. This reader’s comment is right on when it comes to focusing on a “fatal flaw” — a glaring weakness that shines so negatively people can’t see past it to our strengths.

Fatal flaws clearly need to be addressed. Deciding whether a weakness is a fatal flaw or just a weaker area is tricky. It starts with getting data from direct reports, peers, our manager, and others (a 360 assessment) on skills or competencies that actually matter to our role. For example, communicating and influencing may not be a fatal flaw to a highly creative person in a key technical role.

Another reader wrote; “the often overdone need to ‘focus on the positive’ energy can remove the ability to move ahead. We need to be real and whole in creative thinking.”

We do need to focus on weaknesses — when they block our strengths and are fatal to us moving ahead. As counter-intuitive and uncommon as it feels, strengths-based leadership and positive psychology research provides clear and compelling evidence that we need to let go of unrealistic beliefs that exceptional leaders or flourishing people are good at everything. 500,000 assessments of 50,000 leaders have shown that 3 – 5 towering strengths so strongly overshadow weaker areas those extraordinary leaders are in the very top 10 percent. Building a strength from good to great is much easier, more fun — and 2 to 3 times more effective than — trying to improve a weakness.

Despite the fast growing and overwhelming research to the contrary, equating improvement with fixing weaknesses is deeply ingrained in organizational cultures and our psyches. As I wrote a few months ago in “Don’t be Seduced by the Dark Side“, it’s really tough to accept our humanness — our weaknesses — and focus on building strengths.

Work with me and our powerful research-based approach to develop your strengths at my December 5 and 6 Extraordinary Leader and Extraordinary Coach public workshops just 15 minutes from the Toronto airport.

For over three decades, Jim Clemmer’s keynote presentations, workshops, management team retreats, seven bestselling books, articles, and blog have helped hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. The Clemmer Group is the Canadian strategic partner of Zenger Folkman, an award-winning firm best known for its unique evidence-driven, strengths-based system for developing extraordinary leaders and demonstrating the performance impact they have on organizations.