“Managing Your Weaknesses” by Joel Junker

If you ask a professional to name their three biggest strengths, they usually come up with an answer. However, if you ask them to list their three biggest weaknesses, they struggle so much that you would think they were solving a quantum physics problem.

Why do people find it so hard to discuss weaknesses? After all, we all know that we are not perfect and that everyone has weaknesses.

The answer is that we usually think about ourselves from a perspective of strengths as opposed to weaknesses. It is easier to think about our successes and derive the key attributes that allowed us to achieve them. Weaknesses are another matter. We usually don’t think about attributes that are holding us back from achieving our potential. Usually, people around us are not brave enough to give us this candid feedback. So, as a result, we continue to plow through our professional lives focusing on our strengths and ignoring our weaknesses.

Some people are terrible at listening to constructive feedback, and therefore shut down the natural conduits for identifying weaknesses. For example, let’s say you work for me. Upon finishing a project, I invite you into my office for a review of the project. I compliment you on your successes during the project, but also point out a couple of issues that done properly, could have allowed you to achieve even greater success. Instead of listening, you come unglued and get defensive. These types of people see themselves as perfect and they send out the wrong signals to their supervisors with regard to self improvement. I’m not going to waste my time “going combat” with someone like this every time I suggest areas of improvement. Make sure you are sending the right signals to your boss.

Recruiters are equally interested in strengths and weaknesses. What are your three weaknesses? Name three things about yourself upon which you are trying to improve. How would your boss describe an area where you could use improvement? How about a peer or a subordinate? While these are common interview questions, people in general have a lot of problems with them. Recruiters can tell when you are blowing smoke at them. The best answers come from good self-analysis BEFORE you get into an interview. If you find yourself having problems determining what other people would say about your strengths and weaknesses, ask them (or better yet, ask several people to try to develop a consensus). A weakness does not mean you are bad at something. It means that it is “less than a strength.” Someone may have a weakness when it comes to details, but they manage the weakness by using external tools (like a Day Planner or PDA). A person may have a weakness of delegating tasks to others, but they have taken specific steps to continue to improve. The key is to give it some serious thought and ask people around you. Your answers should state the weakness up front, provide some background on it, and most importantly, focus on the specific things you do to manage/improve the weakness.

Stephen Covey (author of The 8th Habit and The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) starts his self-improvement seminars by asking the audience how many think that the people who could really benefit from his self-improvement knowledge are not present in the audience. It is always funny how many people raise their hands. We’ve all read or heard of some good leadership or self-improvement nugget and immediately thought, “Too bad that John is not here because he really needs to hear this.”

Some people are only capable of recognizing improvement opportunities in other people, but they are terrible at seeing it in themselves. It always holds them back from achieving their true potential. You can’t change or improve until you admit that there is a problem.

My advice is to always work on three weaknesses. Start by determining what they are. Ask your boss, friends, family, co-workers, etc., for candid feedback. Once you know what your opportunity areas are, become a subject matter expert on these topics. If you feel like detail orientation is an area where you can improve, study the topic, read a book on it or attend a seminar. The key is developing tools that help you manage your weaknesses. Lastly, remember that you have to implement a change for at least a month for it to become habitual. Without at least a month, 90% of people revert back to the “old” way.

Be proud of your achievements, but remember that successful people view areas of weakness as opportunities for improvement to achieve greater results. No company expects you to be perfect. They want to hire people who are as equally vigilant at identifying their weaknesses as they are their strengths.

Book Recommendation:  I have read several books recently but two standout that opened my eyes to the economic crisis in 2009 and the events that led up to it.  I recommend Liar’s Poker and the Big Short by Michae Lewis.  I recommend you read them in that order, and one right after another.

Motivational Quote:  “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve. ”  Albert Schweitzer