Warning: Working on Your Weaknesses Can Sink Your Career
When you were in school, you were likely told to focus on your weakest subjects. For me it was math. No matter how many times the teacher explained the concept, I still didn’t get it. And no amount of tutoring ever got me out of the C range.
In Grade 12 a teacher said something to me that changed my life. On the second day of math class, she took me aside and asked me what my top subjects were. I quickly rattled off English, History and Marketing, my eyes lighting up as I talked. She smiled and told me I should drop math so I could focus my energy on the subjects where I excelled (which would boost my grade average).
Years later her words came back to me when I was working with a business coach. In our first session, she told me to read Now Discover Your Strengths by Donald Clifton and Marcus Buckingham and take the strength finder test at the end of the book. I found my core strengths are connecting with people, idea generation, implementing ideas, communications and inspiring others.
My coach told me the key to having a successful and rewarding career is to work from your strengths, not your weaknesses. I knew from numerous personality tests that I am an extrovert feeler with very little analytical capacity (okay none). And going back to high school math, I’m horrible at budgeting, gnat charts and anything that involves analyzing data.
What I’m great at is listening to and crafting impactful stories, finding the human element in processes and programs, and sharing information in easy to dissect and relatable ways.
How to grow your career
Getting back to the headline, I’ve found the key to my success has been focusing on my strengths, not trying to be well-rounded (is anyone?) by trying to improve my weak areas. I could take 100 Excel courses and still not know how to balance my business finances so I don’t get audited. Instead, I’ve had an accountant handle my taxes for over 20 years (and talk to the government directly on my behalf when moving expenses were flagged).
While this concept seems so obvious to me, I it’s an area many people struggle with. In a previous job, my boss told me I was spending too much time living in my strengths. I had done an excellent job breaking down silos by building relationships. But now I didn’t need to foster these relationships. Someone else could do that (who?).
He didn’t acknowledge the decades long silos were limiting productivity and growth. Nor did he appreciate the immense amount of work that went into repairing damage done from previous staff. Or the money or time savings by collaboration.
Instead he wanted me to spend my time doing work that could be done (more cheaply) by another staff member.
Your strengths will set you free
I’m sure you know how this story ended. I quit my job as I realized he did not see the value I brought to the organization. My strengths threatened him (as they were his weak areas).
Instead, I returned to consulting where I could focus on further improving my strengths and using them to help others. In the process I’ve written two patient advocacy books, created this website and expanded by corporate training and conference speaking. And most importantly, I am living a life that brings me happiness and personal fulfillment.
I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on your strengths. What are the areas that come easy to you? Where do you struggle? Now what would a career look like if you were working from your strengths and delegating your weaknesses?
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