Strengths vs Weaknesses -Where Should You Concentrate Your Efforts

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Forbes says forget the weaknesses, go full tilt and maximizing your strengths: (https://www.forbes.com/sites/actiontrumpseverything/2013/07/10/forget-about-working-on-your-weakness-play-to-your-strengths-your-overwhelming-reaction/#13da9c1d7765)

Harvard Business Review says just the opposite, that coaching has taken the “strengths” thing too far, that there is no scientific data to back this up, and that weaknesses must be attended to: (https://hbr.org/ideacast/2016/01/stop-focusing-on-your-strengths.html).

As the HBR article points out – toxic office behaviors are at the root of much of corporate dysfunction.  Bright people are often the biggest perpetrators.  So, what to do?  From the research, it looks like making a conscientious effort to work on weaknesses truly can help a person function better at work to the tune of 30-40% more effectiveness at their jobs.  The major reason this approach has fallen out of favor among coaches and self-help guides is that, “let me help you fix your faults” is not the sexy message that sells coaching and books.  However, it is what keeps workers employed, and ultimately it is the work that will remove the road blocks that keep an employee from promotions and raises. Bosses are loathe to comment on weaknesses.  Gone are the days of a manager who just manages others. They are busy with their own deliverables and unpleasant conversations derail their flow.  Often they ignore the telltale signs and only address problems after the issues have built up for a while.  You know what also builds up? Impatience and anger at the employee, such that many times by the time feedback on negative behaviors is shared, the manager has already demoted the employee in their mind. This makes it much harder for the employee to have a positive impact when they do address problems and change. Like a halo effect, the manager is carrying around the baggage from the pileup of infractions which comes with emotions that are fraught.

What’s the quick way to rectify this? An honest positive relationship with a manager.  Your willingness to start your first few weeks at a job encouraging the manager to give all kinds of feedback – positive and negative – will put him/her at ease.  You can even go into your weekly meetings (hopefully you are having those) with your own self-aware critiques to share.

You don’t want to over do the negative – start with items from your list of weekly accomplishments, intermittently bringing up difficulties and challenges – maybe 25% of the discussion can be about challenges?  The conversation will feel a lot like the point in an interview when they ask, “What are your weaknesses?” As I’m sure you know, the formula for the weakness answer is, “here is something I find challenging,” (give a real example). Follow up with, “here is how I am attempting to work on it (give examples).”  Unlike in an interview, you will take this one step further.  Add, “do you have any ideas how I could get better faster on this issue?”  This kind of dialogue, said in a positive and collaborative way, will get you far better input than just focusing on accomplishments.  And if your manager is not receptive, try it with a colleague with a communications style you really appreciate.  A, “really level with me” conversation with a trusted colleague or boss can make the world of difference, particularly if it is interwoven into a broader conversation that brings up your strengths.

 

Your Aptitudes Define You at Your Best – Build An Ongoing Personal Success Story To Guide College and Work Choices

As an art history major myself, I have absolutely no problem with students who choose to pursue a liberal arts education.  Thinking, writing, quality assessment and detailed discernment, analyzing for meaning on multiple levels, proffering original ideas, dialoguing in class, managing complicated research projects, meeting deadlines, gaining feedback from a professor and classmates – these skills are all transferable to the work world.  I always maintained that the same internal drivers that made me able to the discern between a group of  20-30 Madonna paintings and then write a paper also helped me to discern the relevant characteristics of my candidates for a client’s senior level actuary or CFO job, sort the executives by the most relevant achievements and then write succinct summaries that helped my client hire the best executive for their job and work environment.

If I were to go back to my youngest memories, the Montessori primary school I attended provided the very happiest environment, with classrooms organized around ordering, sorting and categorizing.  You can start to see how at the beginning of my career, even with no actual work experience, I was able to think back on what I knew about myself, recognize the highlights and pick a career direction.  I also trained myself to link my peak experiences using a story thread that allowed me to sell myself to companies and organizations even if my experiences weren’t exactly what that company would be hiring me to do in my future job. The ability to draw relevant analogies and paint a vivid picture of one’s abilities is a deciding factor in who gets hired and who doesn’t.  It is worth practicing from a young age.

You can help your child continue to hone this self-awareness too – just begin to pay attention to their work styles in school, and activities, and during chores at home.  Enter into many brief low key discussions over the course of late elementary into high school where you help them see patterns that will benefit them as they pick a major or a first job out of college.  And if you are reading this and you have already moved out of your parents’ home, go back and have a discussion with your family, siblings, family friends, and particularly trusted teachers and adults who coached or mentored you.  What did they notice about your periods of happiness and excitement?  Start to think about a thread that ties all your best experiences together and begin to practice telling this story – it is the basis for self-knowledge and ultimately will drive your career satisfaction and happiness.

Photo 1: Madonna del Prato (Madonna of the Meadow) by Raphael, painted in 1506 now hanging in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. This Madonna, with Jesus and St. John the Baptist is renowned for the exquisite contrasting blue and red colors of her dress, the locked gaze of the two cousins that holds the bottom of the configuration, and for the triangular construction of the figures that mirrors the mountains in the highly evocative background.

Photo 2: A Young professional woman walking briskly to a meeting by Mike Wilson on Unsplash. A quick read of this young adult candidate as she comes into my office: what is the appropriateness level of her interview outfit, does she show a the spring in her step, does she wear a watch on her wrist so won’t have to tell time by looking at her phone during our meeting, does she carry a portfolio or folder with extra resumes and writing samples as well as a writing pad where she will take notes.  The act of noticing these aspects of a candidate in the first minute of our meeting is an act of discernment. Later I review the relevance of these details in the same manner that I used in my analyses of multiple similar Renaissance paintings.