As an MBA student, I’m definitely type A: I need to get the best grade possible, and if I don’t get it, I need to know why. Of course, knowing why is never where it stops; I also need to know how to destroy my weaknesses to earn the highest marks next time, even if it means another night with too little sleep and too much coffee (in my head, I can still hear the ghosts of gym coaches past shouting “pain is weakness leaving the body!”).
Recently, however, we were assigned a book in a marketing class that gave me a new outlook on eradicating our flaws. Different, by Harvard professor Youngme Moon, eloquently elevates the asymmetry of our skill sets into something to be venerated, not renovated.
Professor Moon relates how she evaluated a group of students on their performance in class, outlining where each student outshined her peers and where she might be lacking. Invariably, my type A counterparts would narrow in on their less than stellar scores, determined to improve.
What are you picturing - the outcome of a group of students, most of whom are striving to shore up their weaknesses?
If you imagined a room filled with enthusiasm and productivity, think again. Instead, the author describes a class chockfull of cowed conformity.
How does this apply to the workplace?
Say you have the gift of gab—your coworkers and peers often tell you how you could convince a shark to consider a more vegan diet. But then you get feedback from your supervisor: you could be more of a team player, encouraging those around you to speak up. Meanwhile, across the hall, your coworker has received the opposite advice: he doesn’t speak up enough. The inevitable outcome (because, being the amazing team players you are, you of course take the advice to heart) is that you speak up a little less than before, while your coworker speaks up a little more.
You should now be picturing that dreaded hospital room pronouncement of finality: a flat line.
What, then, is the solution?
Do we just hope for the fortitude to accept the weaknesses we should not change, the humility to acknowledge we might not ever be the best at everything, and the willpower to quiet that nagging voice in our head that insists we can do better…?
Of course not!
What we can do, however, is maintain at least as much focus on further developing our strengths as on improving our weaknesses. We can make sure the jobs we choose invoke our natural abilities, and when a project just isn’t in our skill set, we can be okay with entrusting it to someone who will naturally excel at the task.
Perhaps Peter Drucker summarized it best: “Use feedback analysis to identify your strengths. Then go to work on improving your strengths. Identify and eliminate bad habits that hinder the full development of your strengths. Figure out what you should do and do it. Finally, decide what you should not do.”
There are numerous examples of the success in evolving strengths over improving weaknesses, and the benefits extend beyond a simple acceptance of areas where your best may not be good enough.
Maybe you’re thinking “this all sounds great, but what if I don’t know my strengths?”
Well, hold on to your seats, because there are a few ways to quickly resolve this dilemma. The first is to simply ask those that know you. The second is to buy the excellent book Strengths Finder 2.0, by Tom Rath. Just make sure you’re buying a new copy, rather than a used one, and you will receive an access code to an excellent strength assessment tool that you complete online.
And finally, if you still can’t quiet that inner voice that’s whispering you should just struggle through the task yourself; here’s a final piece of advice: you can still be the best at delegating.
Authored by: Janis Vander Ploeg-Wolfe