Sometimes, I work with business professionals who have adopted a strategy of doubling down on their strengths and ignoring their weaknesses. They generally take this approach as they face difficulties in the workplace. Some of these leaders and managers are simply doing more of what has always worked for them in the past.
For example, if they are direct, no-nonsense managers who push for results, they push harder. If they are collaborative managers who dislike conflict, they try harder to bring everyone together while avoiding conflict even more.
Neither approach works well as these managers need to adapt their styles---not double down on them. These managers are usually receptive to learning other management approaches as they know doubling down is not working for them.
Other professionals, however, double down on their strengths and ignore their weaknesses for a different reason. They have bought into strengths-only management thinking that says it is a waste of time to devote efforts to addressing your weaknesses.
Strengths-only thinking says you should accept yourself as you are and focus on your strengths. Your success from your strengths will make up for any weaknesses that you have and others in the organization will complement you where you are weak.
Helping these managers who have bought into strengths-only thinking often takes more work!
I am not a fan of the strengths-only school of management. It is a management strategy that sounds good, but in reality it does not fit the complex, dynamic nature of our times. Further, when it is overused it becomes an excuse for bad management behavior and inflexibility. Finally, it assumes that we will only have limited success in addressing our weaknesses so it is better to focus on what comes to us naturally.
Taken to an extreme (as I often see people do), strengths-only thinking is a cynical view on our ability to evolve and grow as business managers. Having made my own managerial evolution, I know there is value in investing time and effort on our own self-improvement. I did grow as a manager but it was not by doubling down on my strengths. I had to acknowledge and address my weaknesses to improve my managerial effectiveness.
We make changes all the time including some very difficult ones. We just need to believe it is in our best interests to make the changes. Effective managers are natural problem solvers and change agents, particularly when they are committed to making needed change.
Business trends also show the error of the strengths-only school of management. Globally, managers and leaders have noted how difficult it is to manage organizations in this new decade. These difficulties are creating a dynamic environment where disruptive change is the norm.
Businesses need adaptable managers who can embrace ambiguity as they respond to changing business needs. Inflexible managers who refuse to address their weaknesses will find that they have become an organizational liability as their weaknesses now collide with new business realities.
So, what's the right approach?
Focus on your strengths and minimize your weaknesses (instead of ignoring them)! Acknowledge your weaknesses but do not obsess over them. Improve your skills where you can.
Since everyone has limitations, there will be some areas where you will never excel. Delegate this work to others on your team who are more skilled than you and then leave them alone and let them handle these areas for you. Most importantly, always look for chances to improve your skills and address your weaknesses and you will remain viable.
Those who forget their weaknesses and focus only on their strengths risk becoming a manager with only a hammer in their management toolbox. And, we know what happens when managers only have a hammer in their toolbox---every organizational problem looks like a nail to them! They're always pounding away with the same approach.
Managers should use their strengths as much as possible particularly where their usage makes sense for the issues they are facing. They need to avoid excessive use of their strengths, however. Otherwise, they will become unbalanced managers. Managers who adopt a singular focus on their strengths and ignore their weaknesses, run the risk of becoming one-trick ponies. This is not a promising career path!