One of the worst pieces of leadership advice I ever received was when I was 24. Someone with a military background told me that his approach to management involved identifying his teams’ weakness and focusing intensely on improving them.
While this may seem logical to some, I have come to realize over the years that this approach is very misguided. Sure, it’s important to know our weakness and mitigate them by becoming more self-aware, but focusing on them instead of what we do well doesn’t help accelerate our growth path.
High-achievers and great leaders focus on their strengths. We all have areas of superior skill sets, something that Dan Sullivan, founder and president of Strategic Coach, coined Unique Ability®.
When we are working within our Unique Ability, time flies by and money isn’t the motivation. Studies of success have found that those who have tapped into their Unique Ability are happier, wealthier and contribute more to the world. A few years ago, I heard Lewis Schiff, executive director of the Inc. Business Owners Council, speak about his findings from his own wealth research. Here are a few that stood out:
- 58% of those in the middle class put effort into getting better at things they are not good at.
- 0% of high net worth millionaires put effort into getting better at things they are not good at. Instead, they outsource those skills and tasks to people who naturally are.
- In response to the statement, “Failures have taught me what I am good at” 17% of middle class respondents said yes whereas 95% of those in the high net worth category said yes.
Gaining clarity about your Unique Ability is a key component of high achievement. However, tapping into it is often challenging for most. It can take time, patience and even involve a few dead ends. Whether you want to uncover yours, or help others discover theirs, here are a few tips:
For Individuals: If you don’t know what your strengths are, consider taking a few personality tests such as DISC or Strength Finders. These can help you better understand your natural talents, passions and even what types of environments you work best in. Another tip is to look back at the comments on your report cards from elementary school to see if any trends emerge. I recently did this and found the process to be both insightful and a bit eerie.
Here are a few comments my preschool teacher wrote about my strengths and weaknesses when I was five:
“He continually impresses me with his creative inventions and his zealousness toward new projects.”
“He is not afraid to say what is on his mind, but often does so without realizing the impact that his words might have on others”
These comments could have been from my most recent 360 Review.
As you take stock in your own strengths, it’s also important to be self-aware about your “weaknesses” and for your awareness of them to match what others would say about you. In this process, keep in mind that, when known, these are just areas of your personality that you can better manage and, in some cases, neutralize. If unknown, they are areas of weakness.
For Managers and Leaders. Great leaders recognize their weaknesses and use that knowledge to build teams with complementary skills. They also understand the strengths and weakness of their team and play to individuals’ strengths. For example, if your top sales person struggles to fill out paperwork, don’t berate them about it. Get them an assistant so they can focus on selling more. In addition, having your team complete the Delegate & Elevate tool can shed light on what people on your team want and don’t want to be doing and where you can better support them.
I would describe my role today at Acceleration Partners as “Head of Creative Inventions and New Projects.” I have also put a lot of effort into a candid feedback system I call “Respectful Authenticity.” Turns out, my preschool teacher had me pegged.
Quote of the Week
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”