Are you aware of your personal strengths and weaknesses? In this article we’ll look at:
- The distinction between strengths and weaknesses, and why it may be more important to focus on strengths.
- How to identify your strengths and weaknesses
- How to manage and work around your weaknesses when focusing on your strengths
“What are your strengths and weaknesses?” This is probably the most hated interview question, but apart from the enjoyment of watching us squirm while trying to answer it, there’s a good reason employers might want to ask it; it could allow them to fit you into a role in which you could use your personal strengths, and has minimum focus on your weaknesses.
Alas, this doesn’t tend to happen – Gallup report that 68% of employees don’t get to use their strengths on a daily basis! The thinking seems to be that there’s a global characteristic called ‘talent’, and if employers can find people with ‘talent’, they can train them to do whatever job is necessary – after all, they’re ‘talented’!
However, talent doesn’t work like that; there are many possible talents that a person could have. When we see someone who does well in their profession, we generally call them talented; but in fact they usually have just focused on their natural strengths, and minimised their weaknesses. There are plenty of examples: the genius artist who lives like a slob; the expert computer programmer with no charisma; the incredible athlete who has no skill with numbers. You wouldn’t hire the first person to be your interior designer, the second to lead your sales team, or the third to do your taxes, yet they are all talented.
So, ‘talent’ is not defined by being a whizz in everything you do. It’s a case of finding activities that require your strengths but not your weaknesses, and developing your expertise in these areas.
How do you find out what your strengths are, so that you can use and develop them? There are several ways, the best one will depend on your personality. If you are reflective and perceptive, you might want to try self-reflection. If you think you’ll find this difficult, you could take a questionnaire. These questionnaires are not the flimsy little tests you find in popular magazines; they are empirically validated measurements based on a great deal of research. The main ones at the moment are the Values In Action model and the StrengthsFinder model. A new model, Realise2 has recently entered the fray too and looks interesting. Here are the strengths from the former two models:
Wisdom and Knowledge
More information on these models can be found in this comparison between VIA and StrengthsFinder article. Once you’ve identified your strengths, next you’ll need to know what to do with them.
Weaknesses can be identified in the same way: self-reflection or questionnaires. If you take the questionnaires, this time, of course, look at the bottom section of your results. Note that the StrengthsFinder model does not report your weaknesses; only your top strengths, so you’ll have to use the VIA questionnaire to figure out your weaknesses in this way.
The next question that arises is, if we’re better of focusing on our strengths, then what do we do about our weaknesses? Do we just ignore them? The answer will depend entirely on the situation. You should avoid trying to develop your weaknesses if you can, by outsourcing or finding technical solutions if possible. There’s more information on how to work around weaknesses here.