Should You Work On Your Strengths or Weaknesses?

by Mark Fisher

One of the great debates in all of personal development and business literature is this:

  • Should you focus your education on shoring up your weaknesses?
  • OR should you ignore your weaknesses and focus on your strengths?

In the 70’s and 80’s, personal development gurus encouraged the former. The Jim Rohns and Zig Ziglars of the world reminded you that “every master was once a disaster.” There was no skill you couldn’t effectively learn on the path to making a great life for yourself and your loved ones. Through consistent commitment to education, anyone could improve their lot in life and live the American dream.

And to this day, many corporations using employee evaluation systems that identify “areas of opportunity” where employees could strengthen a weak link in their skillsets.

In the 90’s, we saw a trend towards focusing on your strength. Echoing the perspective of management guru Peter Drucker, books like First, Break All the Rules beat the drum that “people don’t change; they just become more of what they are.”

The management advice of the day reflected this attitude:

Don’t try to change your team members, or make them crazy by focusing on their weaknesses. Put them on the “right seat of the bus” to leverage their natural talents. Trying to improve their weaknesses will be a waste of time. Instead, you’ll get a much better return investing their development time on their natural strengths. They likely already love working on their strengths, so it’s most efficient to maximize these skillsets.

To this day, modern-day business gurus like Gary Vaynerchuk encourage relentless focus on your strengths. Personality style assessments seem to suggest some of us just aren’t wired for certain skillsets. And in practice, most time management systems (including Business for Unicorn’s Time Ninja course) encourage “specializing.” Identify your “zone of genius” or your “5%” and then outsource the rest!

However, in the 00’s, the data coming in from the social science literature began to swing back the other way. The validity of personality style assessments were called into question and debunked. Books like Carol Dweck’s Mindset began to make an evidence-based case for the robustness of human potential. A series of books like “Talent Code” and “Talent is Overrated” began questioning our social myths around “born-talent” and prodigies.

Apparently, people can change. The key is simply believing that it’s a possibility.

So who’s right?

BOTH.

They’re both right.

But let me give you a heuristic to make this actionable for you:

  • Whenever you can outsource or delegate something you hate and/or suck at, you should outsource or delegate.
  • When you can’t, you shouldn’t.
  • If you can’t outsource it (and you can’t stop doing it), you’ll have to personally become at least adequate. Otherwise it will be preventing you from leveraging your strengths.

The tasks that are realistically outsourceable will change based on what you do professionally, and where you’re at in your career. But it’s no secret the world’s most successful business people have enormous staffs and ONLY focus on the big picture. At this point in his career, it’s fair to guess that Richard Branson probably does focus exclusively on his “zone of genius.”

Furthermore, one of the keys to successful time management is indeed delegating whenever possible.

However, some functions simply can’t be outsourced.

For instance, your personal time management skills would be very hard to give to someone else on your team. I guess you could pay someone to stand over you all day long and keep you on task, but I think we can all see why that may not be very practical.

Now in theory, it is possible for you to have so much success that you have an assistant handle your emails (i.e. Richard Branson). A well-trained assistant could make up for your lack of responsiveness and general email mastery.

But here’s the challenge: in today’s day and age, it’s unlikely to have that level of success unless you master your email first.

Furthermore, if you don’t plan on running a massive company, there’s an even wider foundation of skills you’ll never realistically delegate. If you own a small business, work as a freelancer, or you’re an employee, some core skills required for success will simply never be outsourced.

For instance, if you run a small business but aren’t willing to build relationships or do sales or marketing, you’re almost certainly dead in the water.

Those skillsets are definitely outsourceable in theory, but they will be VERY expensive. If you’re not making massive revenue, you won’t be able to afford to get high quality help in those domains. And if you’re not building relationships and doing sales and marketing, you’ll never get massive revenue in the first place. And then you won’t be able to leverage your other strengths.

So how to make this work practically?

How much time should we spend on shoring up weaknesses verse leveraging our personal superpowers?

As always… it depends!

Here’s one final heuristic to consider:

  • Scenario 1: You have a missing skillset that’s presenting consistent challenges to successfully leveraging your strengths.

In this case, spend at least 65% of your continuing education on improving this “rate limiting factor.” Examples here could be time management, writing skills, or sales.

  • Scenario 2: You have no gaping holes in your professional competencies that come up consistently in feedback from clients or colleagues.

In this case, spend most of your time sharpening your personal superpowers to become truly best-in-class.

As always, you’ll have to use your own intuition and reasoning to see if the above actually makes sense for your situation.

But the key takeaway is that working on your strengths or working on your weaknesses is not an either/or proposition. And only by thinking strategically will you be able to prioritize your educational pursuits for maximum effectiveness.

As always, would love to hear your thoughts and questions below!

NOTE: This article is an excerpt from Business for Unicorn’s course of time management. If you found this helpful, be sure to sign up for the Business for Unicorns email list to be looped in when we open up enrollment for our next round.

Comments

3 Comments

  1. Jonathan Goodman

    Funny you publish this. I’ve gone back and forth on this topic a lot but think that I’ve finally made up my mind that it’s better to focus on strengths, firming up weaknesses ensuring that they don’t hurt me, but not paying much more attention to them than that.

    I always think back to my math tutor in high school. I was an OK math student, getting around 60% an a great English student, hovering in the mid-80’s (go figure). My parents did the obvious thing and got me a math tutor figuring that I was already pretty good at English.

    I wish that they instead enrolled me in creative writing classes.

    Reply
    • Mark Fisher

      Yep, it’s such an art to figure out how best to apply your time.

      I often think of it like a role-playing game. How does one decide how to allot treasure (time) to the various disciplines of magical defense, swordplay, running speed, etc.?

      I think you’re spot on with “ensuring the weaknesses don’t hurt you,” then a strong pivot to strengths.

      Reply
  2. Warren

    That makes sense – thanks for sharing! Great article in being brief, having relevant content, and conclusions based on logic.

    Reply

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