I was at a leadership meeting recently for one of my volunteer organizations when the person leading the meeting asked us the following question: “What is your biggest leadership challenge you are facing right now”? Two persons responded, one said not having enough time. The other person asked a question, ” is there a problem/challenge with the current leadership”? This got me thinking about the many qualities of leadership in particular the one I want to talk about in this post- why telling people to focus on their weaknesses is not in the best professional or personal interest of anyone. Leaders know this and are not afraid to step outside of this prevailing belief you must work on your weaknesses. At least not nearly as much as the daily advice would imply. The meeting leader went on to cite John Maxwell’s take on leadership and how one’s time ought to be budgeted , which is along the line of ” … leaders ought to focus 75% of their time and effort on their strengths- building and reenforcing their strengths. 25% on learning new things- stretching themselves and 5% on their actual weaknesses.
There is a reason for this breakdown of how one’s time as a leader ought to be spent. It makes sense on all levels- emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically to invest in that which works. So, when the one leader responded that her biggest challenge faced was a lack of time. She is likely saying her challenge is not knowing how to spend or manage her time. She is likely at a loss as to how much of her time to focus on her strengths- the things she does extremely well and are quite proficient at- in order for her to move from a level of being good to being great to being a master eventually. A lack of time is never the problem. A lack of knowing what to focus one’s valuable resource- time -on is the problem. If she were following the time budget principle outlined by John Maxwell, her response to the initial question would likely be different.
What about the second leader’s response to the question with a question? Rather than assuming that there is a problem, the second leader is clarifying whether indeed there is a problem. This then puts him in a position to know where to start and how best to address any challenge that may exist with the leadership. This approach comes from focusing on one’s strength. By taking the approach of first understanding the situation at hand and then looking for solutions- you will find this does not allow for room to focus on your weaknesses but instead, pushes you to focus on your strengths. This is where the majority of one’s energy ought to be spent.
What about the other 25% of how a leader’s time ought to be spent? Learning new things or new ways to do old things will give leaders a shot at staying relevant and meaningful. Cy Wakeman in her book, Reality-Based Leadership, describes this approach as increasing one’s personal value to the workplace family. I agree with this assessment. The traditional directive to focus the majority of one’s time on strengthening or eliminating your weaknesses is a flawed one. It wastes precious time and sets one back emotionally and mentally as you may see small wins ( which is a good thing) however, focusing on one’s strengths brings bigger wins that are more lasting and sustaining.
The final 5% of a leader’s time ought to be spent on their weaknesses. I think it is almost unnecessary to assign a percentage of your time to work on your weaknesses. If you are spending the bulk of your time building your strengths and learning new things. You are reenforcing and stretching yourself- in other words- you are growing. This growth will shadow your weaknesses where over time they will be so shadowed by the ‘branches and leaves’ of your strengths, that it will be next to impossible for them to be your Achilles heel. Like weeds on your lawn, you don’t need to use chemicals to get rid of them. You just need to build and strengthen your lawn so the grass grows stronger roots, cut the lawn and leave it high enough- over time the weeds die because there is no room for them in the lush and healthy lawn. Weaknesses can only be your downfall if you neglect strengthening your strengths and stretching yourself by learning something new everyday. So next time if you are told to focus on your weaknesses, do think about how much more you would grow by building on your strengths first, learning and growing second. By the time you get to addressing your weaknesses they are all but gone.