Should you focus on your strengths or your weaknesses?

Illustration by r.c.d. kreimerman

Imagine that you run a soccer team.  You have a solid defense; your goalkeeper is one of the best in the market and your team embraces fair-play by committing less fouls per game than the average.  Your “only” problem is that you are not scoring enough goals to win your matches. What would you do?  

Now imagine that you are a striker, the most coveted position in soccer. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that your last name is Messi and that you are regarded as one of the best strikers ever to play the game. But you have a problem: people don’t think of you as a particularly good defender. What would you do?

Next exercise: imagine that you are a tennis player. Your 1st serve is very good; in fact, it is your strongest weapon, and you back it up with a massive forehand. However, you lose a lot of points on your 2nd serve.  You also tend to hit more double faults than most top players. What would you do?

Once upon a time there was a guy named Paul, he had a band and he tried real hard: he wrote songs, played the guitar and an odd looking bass. On top of that he never sang out of tune. However, he wasn’t the best drummer, the guy who regularly played the drums was a Starr (yes, a Starr with double r).

If getting the best players in the right position is difficult enough, the real work starts when you put your plans into action, the game starts, you let the magic happen and you try to deliver. Netflix founder and CEO Reed Hastings talks about building talent density. Which means, recruiting the best of the best and letting the weak performers depart. Or to put it in Netflix own terms: adequate performance gets a generous severance package.

In 1972 the Miami Dolphins didn’t have the greatest names in the game. Their defense was dubbed the “No-Name Defense” by Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry, because of their lack of high-profile players. Their starting quarterback, Bob Griese, fractured his ankle in week 5. The rest of the season was led by backup quarterback Earl Morrall. Despite the seemingly bad odds, head coach Don Shula and his team achieved something unprecedented: the only perfect season in NFL history. They won 14 regular season and 3 play-off games. 

In an article by Elif Suner, for Forbes, about strength-based approaches in the workplace, she cites that according to the VIA Institute and Gallup, employees feel more confident, self-aware and productive when focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses. This leads to higher employee engagement, increased performance and lower attrition rates. In her opinion, our strengths are great resources for increasing our energy and making us feel dynamic.

We live in a fix society. You want your child to bring As across her report card and you focus on the Fs because you cannot go beyond the As. You go to the doctor when you are ill and you, as the expert in your field, are expected to find solutions to problems. We also tend to pay more attention to undesirable events. The negativity bias is our tendency to register negative stimuli more readily but also to dwell on these events. Yet, if we are honest with ourselves and we want to be even better at what we do, sooner or later we are going to have to pay attention to our weaknesses. This is true for organizations and for individuals.

The moment you finish assembling the perfect team you have to start thinking about your plan B: who is your back up, what happens when someone gets sick or injured, decides to quit or goes to another team. What if you need to save money or your “perfect” team does not deliver? If you are an athlete, an artist or any other professional you may want to think about how to improve the things you do well in order to do them more consistently; perhaps, with less effort, in a way that you are less prone to injuries or in a more enjoyable manner. You also may want to pay attention to the things you don’t do so well. This doesn’t necessarily mean that focusing on your weaknesses is a burden. A weakness might be seen as an obstacle. An impediment to your goals, desires and aspirations. But, as related by Ryan Holiday in The Obstacle is the Way, Marcus Aurelius wrote:” the impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” In other words: every obstacle is an opportunity to get better. What stands in your way today may be the thing you need to be better and happier tomorrow.

If you are thinking that an obstacle is not the same as a weakness you are right. However, you could reframe your weaknesses in a positive way: of all the many things you could improve upon, focus on those areas that help you develop your talent stack. This is, according to Scott Adams (Dilbert creator), all your ordinary skills that when you combine them in a unique way can account for something extraordinary. Every time you add a skill you grow your talent stack and… you know what is next.

r.c.d. kreimerman


No Rules Rules Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention. Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer. 2020

The obstacle is the way. Ryan Holiday. Ed. Portfolio. 2014

How to Fail at Almost Everything at Still Win Big. Scott Adams. Penguin Publishing Group. 2014

Also you can read: Thinking about Thinking: 5 Books to Change the Way you Think

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