How to be strong and weak
Let’s rethink strengths and weaknesses through three lenses
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Performance reviews happen in companies all around the world, but a lot of them suck. The ones I had early in my career typically involved a boss running through my strengths and weaknesses as if there were a clear dividing line. You’re so principled (strength) but at times, too judgemental (weakness or “area for development,” as it’s often more gently labeled).
I kick myself now that I never dared to say, “You don’t get one without the other!”
There is an expression in French, “Elle a les défauts de ses qualités."
She has the faults of her strengths.
Being a high achiever can be a motivator, but not if it causes you to over-impose your standards on other people.
Having strong empathy with your team is terrific, but not if people take advantage of you.
Liking things to be organised and in order can be wonderful, but not if you can’t let go.
Being persuasive is a powerful skill, but not if you use it to con or manipulate people.
Our strengths are the source of our weaknesses, our weaknesses are the source of our strengths. They are not separate or divided, but coexist.
Let’s rethink strengths and weaknesses through three lenses —
1. context, 2. outcomes, and 3. continuums.
1. Context is king
My mind rarely stops trying to find connections and join dots. In my work, it’s a creative strength. It's utterly annoying to my kids and husband at times; they tell me I’m over-analysing what they said or did.
There is no such thing as strength and weakness; it is all contextual.
Developing situational awareness, knowing when to dial-up or down an aptitude is key for our relationships and personal development. A strength in overdrive will cause you problems in some situations.
“Human beings are messy. They're good and bad, with strengths and weaknesses that don't make it so easy to say they're just one thing to all people.”
- Abby Wambach, former USNWT player.
2. Using your strengths at the right times, in the right ways
“Build on your strengths and find a way around your weakness,” blah, blah. I cringe when I hear this advice. Organizations that claim to have “strength-based” cultures, purely focusing on the things people do well, also need rethinking. Here is what gets missed: You can easily overdevelop a strength.
I was told at my very first job that I was persuasive in front of a room. Very quickly, I found myself being the one who always gave the pitch, presentation, talk — you name it. Yes, I developed confidence in public speaking but without even realising it, managed to silence people around me.
A strength used too much or inappropriately becomes a weakness.
My late teaching mentor Pamela Hartigan once gave me some simple yet brilliant advice:
“Think of the outcome you want and then think through how your strength shows up in the right place and in the right way.” Life-changing.
Supporting this publication helps give me the time to keep thinking, writing, and sharing these ideas with you.
3. Think in continuums, not opposites
So much of our world thinks in opposites — good versus bad, joy versus sorrow, healthy versus unhealthy, trust versus distrust. When you start to reframe ideas and concepts around continuums, it is absolutely transformative in how you think.
Performance reviews would be far more useful if we got rid of the “strengths and weaknesses” opposites list. Instead, we can help people think of specific traits and behaviours on a continuum in a specific context.
For example, take control.
When you ramp up your controlling tendencies from a 1 to a 9, in what situations is that useful, and where is it suffocating?
Or assertiveness. In what situations is it constructive to be an 8, and when do you need to dial it back?
Context, outcomes, continuums.
My challenge this week is to reflect on your so-called weaknesses and identify situations when they become strengths (and the other way around).
I’ll be in touch with paid subscribers again on Wednesday.
Very timely, as always!
Thank you! Jeffrey
Xin chào các Vị, tôi rất cảm động và biết ơn những giá trị tuyệt đẹp từ các Vị,