Should You Focus On Your Strengths Or Weaknesses?

I have a friend whose life’s dream is to be a jazz pianist. The next Diana Krall. But she could never get into playing the Bach fugues her piano teacher made her play when she was growing up. So she gave up playing for many years.

And became clinically depressed.

Well, it turns out, for playing jazz, it doesn’t matter if you suck at playing classical music. It also doesn’t matter if your tennis backhand could use some work.

However, jazz pianists must be able to improvise. Her improvisational skills needed work, because they were a serious limit to her success. Now she has gone back to music school and is studying re-harmonization, modal scales and improvisation.

Meanwhile she is happy and excited about her life again.

Some experts will say your weaknesses are holding you back, and that you need to focus on developing them.  Others will advise you to forget about your weaknesses and focus on your strengths.

Which is true?

As it happens, the most successful people tend to maximize their strengths while addressing their relevant weaknesses. There is a growing body of research, though, finding that people who use their strengths more do experience a positive effect.

How Do You Know What Your Strengths Are?

In Professor Christopher Peterson’s 2006 book A Primer on Positive Psychology,  he lists a summary of “possible criteria for signature strengths”:

  • a sense of ownership and authenticity (“this is the real me”) vis-a-vis the strength
  • a feeling of excitement while displaying it, particularly at first
  • a rapid learning curve as themes are attached to the strength and practiced
  • continuous learning of new ways to enact the strength
  • a sense of yearning to act in accordance with the strength
  • a feeling of inevitability in using the strength, as if one cannot be stopped or dissuaded from its display
  • the discovery of the strength as owned in an epiphany
  • invigoration rather than exhaustion when using the strength
  • the creation and pursuit of fundamental projects that revolve around the strength
  • intrinsic motivation to use the strength

I think just about everybody can easily name a few strengths of their own. Take a moment and write a short list of yours.

What good does this list do?

As it turns out, a 2015 study of almost 10,000 New Zealand workers found that workers who reported a high awareness of their strengths were 9.5 times more likely to show signs of flourishing than those with low strengths awareness. Not only that, the research also showed that workers who reported use of high strengths were 18 times more likely to be flourishing than people with low strengths use.

Research has also shown that positive strengths building is especially suited to situations when learning something new, something difficult, or something perceived as difficult.

And studies have found that employees who regularly have the chance to use their strengths at work every day are up to six times more engaged in what they’re doing.

On the other hand, all of this might be down to the fact that it is more fun and easier to look at yourself in a good light. After all, it’s no secret that most people are good at the things they enjoy, and they enjoy the things they’re good at.

But what if you have to give yourself bad news and look at your shortcomings instead of telling yourself what you want to hear?

You guessed it, it is important to find a good balance. So how do you navigate your strengths and weaknesses intelligently?

  1. Hire people with strengths that cover your weaknesses. This is why well-constructed work teams can be so powerful. You can hire people with the strengths that you lack. Not only will you be more productive, your team could even become less grumpy as a result. A 2014 study found a link between use of character strengths and positive mood the following day.
  2. Take stock of your goals. What skills or traits do you need to be successful in the achievement of those goals? Where are you lacking? How can your strengths be applied? Will your weaknesses be limiting? Can you work around your weaknesses? The answer to these questions will make it obvious if you need to address your weaknesses. Avoid worrying about irrelevant weaknesses.
  3. Are any of your weaknesses pervasive? For example, procrastination, an inability to make decisions, and a lack of following through on your decisions are weaknesses that affect everything you do. These are worthy of time and effort to correct. These weaknesses can even take away from your strengths.
  4. Get a second opinion. Scientists have discovered that people are often blind to their weaknesses. And even when they do identify their weaknesses, they grossly underestimate their severity.
  5. Be brave and ask a friend to list your weaknesses. Get as many trusted opinions as possible. When you hear several of the same items repeatedly, you can be quite certain that these are genuine weaknesses that could use your attention.
  6. Your strengths make you uniquely valuable. Your strengths determine your value in the marketplace. They define what you can bring to the world at a high level. Focusing on your strengths makes sense if it enhances your value to the world.
  7. The ability to accurately throw a golf ball at a tree isn’t relevant to anyone. Focus on strengths that are relevant to achieving your goals or enhancing your value.
  8. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to spend more time on your strengths. Imagine you’re a professional golfer and have the best driving stats on the PGA tour. Does it make sense to spend extra time becoming an even better driver? Your driving skill isn’t holding you back. If you’re not the number one player on the tour, the obstacle lies elsewhere.
  9. Keep your ego out of it. It’s human nature to want to spend time doing the things you’re good at and avoid areas of weakness. Avoid allowing your personal preferences to make these important decisions. Spend your time and energy wisely.

Everyone is blessed with strengths and burdened with weaknesses. How you manage your strengths and weaknesses determines your ability to thrive in the world.

When allocating your time to increasing strengths or minimizing weaknesses, choose carefully. Address weaknesses that are systemic or stand in the way of achieving your goals.

Think about the logical outcome of how you can spend your time. A little careful thinking with these strategies in mind will bring to light the smartest decision.

Leave a comment