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Why You Should Forget About Fixing Weaknesses

At a recent CRO-business-development consulting workshop, I was discussing how our client could maximize strengths and minimize weakness. It got me thinking that the same principle applies to individuals: the professional success of many people (even superheroes…but more on that in a second) can be hindered by focusing too much on weaknesses, when we know that the better strategy is to leverage strengths.

Even Superheroes Have Problems

During my workshop presentation, in typical Seuss fashion, I used superheroes as the theme. One image I used to trigger discussion about weaknesses was of a villain stepping on a superhero’s cape, preventing the superhero from escaping. The image makes me laugh because we are so used to seeing superheroes wear capes…but this is actually a liability. At Seuss we can’t look at that image without thinking, ‘Just take off the cape!’

Easier said than done, though, even for superheroes. That cape is part of their identity, their (alter)ego. Humans without supernatural powers tend to treat their weaknesses the same way. Rather than letting them go and focusing on our strengths (in the superhero’s case, flying and getting away from enemy), we focus on what’s holding us back. Similarly, performance reviews tend to focus on “areas of improvement” instead of “turning strengths into uber-achievements.” 

Fixing…or distracting?

A lot of people seem to be stuck on the idea that, to improve oneself, one needs to focus on improving their weakest points. Not particularly gifted in a certain area? “Just muddle through” and you’ll get better. For many of us, this idea was fed to us as part of our schooling. The problem with this approach is that it takes time away from, instead, building on our strengths, and it focuses a lot of our energy on things that make us feel bad about ourselves. That’s not generally motivating. Nor is it an efficient use of your time.

Okay, yes, sometimes you do have to confront your weaknesses. Even if, for example, you aren’t that tech savvy, you still need to learn the basics of the technological tools that are required for your job anyway. Working in pharma recruitment, we of course maintain a large database of life-sciences professionals.  Despite varying levels of comfort with technology, every member of the team knows how to use our own database very well (thanks to extensive training and lots of practice).

Finding your strengths

Okay, focusing on strengths, check. Should be easy enough…as long as you know what your strengths are. Stuck? Molly Moseley shares some tips on how to figure them out. So, that’s step one.

Next you need to figure out how to capitalize on these strengths in your work situation. This may take a good, open chat with your boss and your team. It shouldn’t need to be said, but it’s important that you work in an environment, on projects and with people who support your quest for personal betterment and give you opportunities to use and develop your strengths. (If this isn’t the case, come talk to us!)

The formula for success is: strength + opportunity. So you have two tasks ahead of you: work on increasing those strengths you’ve uncovered, but also look for opportunities to apply them. Think about where your special superpower might be needed, leave your cape behind and you’ll be in a position to really save the day.

By Sabine Hutchison, whose superhero strength is helping life-sciences businesses define and accomplish their growth goals.