"Don't over-improve your weaknesses. If you're not good at something, work on it until it no longer prevents your progress, but the bulk of your time is better spent maximizing your strengths." -- James Clear
I remember having a heated debate early in my professional career with my then line manager (and now amazing professional confidant and friend Stacy Jackson) about this very topic.
I showed Stacy the visual and Einstein quote as the stimulus for what I believed was a misapplication of my natural strengths. My argument being that I was being asked to develop a skill that took too much of my energy (as it didn’t come naturally to me) versus allowing me to leverage my strengths (which were clearly valued by her and the organization). In addition to the visual, I think I said something to the effect of “you wouldn’t ask Mozart to play soccer would you!?” [Side note: I had a very trusting working relationship with Stacy and she was/is an amazing leader of leaders; we had some heated albeit fun arguments, and I am eternally grateful that she cared enough to debate me].
After we both laughed at me comparing myself to Mozart (SMH), she calmly clarified that she wasn’t asking me to completely retool my skill set; rather, she mapped out how shoring up a lagging skill could sharpen my strengths.
“I’m not asking you/Mozart to play soccer,” she laughed, “Consider instead that I’m asking a really good soccer player to shore up the ability to kick with both legs.” She continued the analogy with me as the soccer player, “You clearly favor kicking with your right leg and evidently it is strong; now imagine what I can do, what YOU can do, if we can get your left leg up to reasonable par. And when I say reasonable, I don’t mean that I want your left leg to be as strong as your right, I just don’t want it to be a barrier to your development as a player…and right now it is.”
In other words, Stacy wasn’t asking the fish to climb a tree, nor was she asking Mozart to play soccer; rather, she was asking the fish to swim in a different tank (e.g., to experience different environments), she was asking Mozart to build a piano from pieces (e.g., to understand how the instrument’s materials affect sound), etc...I could go on and on. The key take-away is that Stacy effectively diagnosed my strengths and then patiently coached me through my weaknesses so that they didn’t prevent progress.
Whilst I am eternally grateful for the lesson and have used it throughout my career when coaching others (especially when I’m coaching team leaders), I have modified a few things over the years. First, I tend not to use the word “weaknesses” as that often has the negative effect of putting the emphasis on “what’s wrong” versus “what’s right”. Second, I start the conversation with the context at hand, i.e., strengths and weaknesses in relation to what? Career development, project management?
As one example, whenever I’m discussing career or professional development plans with someone, I make sure that we discuss “tendencies” (aka strengths) and the “shadows” of those tendencies (aka weaknesses) so that we’re focused on maximizing strengths whilst being mindful of the imbalance that can occur when one over-relies on said strengths in all situations. This subtle but powerful shift in approach allows the individual I’m coaching to reflect on their strengths as “tools” versus fixed traits. This then allows us to explore the application of their tendencies (mindful of the shadows) against the backdrop of the situation at hand.
In short: I’m not Mozart, and thank you Stacy.
What is the difference between being comfortable versus being complacent? I have no idea, so I challenge myself. Challenge my thinking, my parenting, my husband-ing; attempt to challenge my assumptions and my understanding of things. I won't get it right all the time so I welcome all constructive feedback. The goal? To "...be satisfied with life always but never with one's self." (George Jean Nathan)