Strengths vs. Weaknesses

by Krishna on March 27, 2008

When it comes to managing one’s strengths and weaknesses, there are different schools of thought. Some people are of the opinion that weaknesses are areas of improvement and it pays to work on them. The contrary point of view is that we should focus on improving and taking advantage of strengths rather than trying to reduce weaknesses.

Focusing on strengths and working at a job where you can utilize your talents and skills makes sense on different levels. You can be much more productive and have a greater chance of obtaining successful results. Success at your job can provide greater satisfaction in both tangible and intangible ways. Strengths usually have a snowball effect, i.e., the better you are at something, the more you are likely to learn and improve upon them.

Of course, you don’t have to be dependent on your job to receive satisfaction. Many skills can be used at hobbies, which provide an outlet for greater creativity and fun. Many personal qualities can be channeled into productive activities within your community, helping people in the best way you know.

But let us look at the limitations with only focusing on improving strengths:

  1. The snowball effect does not continue forever. At some point, you hit a point of diminishing returns from improving your strengths. This is usually a function of external circumstances. For example, while the best programmer may be 10 times more productive than the worst programmers, they never get paid at the same ratio. High rates of improvement may not be possible because of stagnation or lack of innovation in your industry. This is not true of the technology industry, but many other sectors are conservative and not receptive to or do not generate new ideas.
  2. People often confuse managing their strengths and weaknesses with managing other people’s strengths and weaknesses. As a manager, it is advantageous to place people in situations which make maximum use of their strengths and reduce any risks caused by their weaknesses. All things considered, you cannot force people to change their personality and hence this is your best option. But when it comes to you, you do have a choice to do something about your weaknesses, such as creating a process around you to prevent problems.
  3. You cannot expect other people to accept your weaknesses and put you in a situation where only your strengths matter. That may be the wise thing for those people to do, but often, they don’t do it and you don’t have a choice. Nobody loves you for what you are. They always love you for what you will become (or what they imagine you to be). And that means change. There will be many aspects of your job that will require you to overcome certain weaknesses. A new opportunity that closely matches your strengths may also mean managing some of your failings. You cannot be perfect, nor can you improve upon everything, but you may have to work hard on some aspects of your personality.
  4. Many people also tend to confuse strengths and weaknesses with likes and dislikes, leading to premature dismissal of anything distasteful. Some jobs or tasks may take great advantage of the person’s strengths, but the person takes time to realize this. Often, the cause is bad training or a bad trainer. You can see this in the school system where some students fail at everything, even though it is conceivable that they may succeed in jobs requiring one or more of those subjects.
  5. Knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses is an imprecise science. For example, consider the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and its different personality types. Even setting aside concerns about reliability and accuracy, people may end up making mistakes in answering an MBTI questionnaire, and think that they have strengths and weaknesses that they do not possess. This may drive them to make incorrect choices about their career and what they do at their jobs.

Nothing is ever static. As industries evolve and the nature of jobs change, strengths that may have worked for you in the past are no longer as helpful. Long-term neglect of weaknesses may create a crisis situation. To avoid that, pay some attention to your weak spots regularly. Constantly evaluate your strengths and weaknesses with respect to your present career path and make necessary adjustments to avoid big corrections in the future.

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