When Strengths Become Weaknesses


How do you find a blind spot? By definition, blinds spots are outside our view, but just because we can’t see them doesn’t mean we have to be ignorant of their existence. We just have to look carefully at our strengths, and we can get an idea.

That’s not a typo. Look at your STRENGTHS to figure out where you’re likely to have a weakness.

You see, most people get so comfortable working out of their strengths that they over use them. So the person who’s “Analytical” can develop such a high level of dependency on data that they struggle to make a decision in an ambiguous environment. Alternatively, when someone’s strength is “Harmony,” they can value keeping the peace over having necessary confrontations.

For me, one of my key strengths is “Activator,” which means I go from idea to “go” in the blink of an eye. If you want to do something spontaneous or need a jump start to an idea, I’m a good person to have on your team. I LOVE getting things done, and the best way to get things done (in my humble opinion) is to get started. I push for movement like a dog digs for a bone - relentlessly.

This CAN be a good thing; however, if what’s required is a more contemplative approach or a more detailed analysis, my strength can become a liability. One story illustrates this best.

Billy and I have “a guy” we use who builds “custom” furniture for a fraction of what it costs to buy in stores. We like his prices, craftsmanship, and that we can order whatever size piece we need.  A number of years ago when we needed a bookshelf, we ordered it “custom” so it would fit perfectly in our living room.

More precisely, I ordered it so it would fit perfectly.

Remember, I’m an Activator and when I asked Billy to do the measuring and it took him more than a day to “pull the tape,” I went ahead and measured the space myself. Then I called the builder and placed the order.

Boom! Done!

However, when Billy went to pick up the furniture he recognized something wasn’t right. He was convinced our woodworker had made a mistake so he called me (and asked to get me out of a meeting!) to confirm the measurements I’d given the shop.

I had measured twice (that much I know), so I confidently told him the piece was 14 feet by 8 feet.  There was a long pause on the phone.

Then Billy asked, “How tall do you think our ceilings are?” An easy question, and I answered confidently, “8 feet!” Another long pause. Then Billy calmly asks me, “Did you think about allowing for clearance in your measurements since we have to stand up the shelves in the room?”

It was my turn to pause.

“Uh, no.” I said, “I didn’t." “Well, OK,” he replied, “we’ll figure it out.

Aside from the fact that Billy’s response was EXTREMELY gracious (forgiveness is a powerful thing!), what I saw was I had OVER-relied on my strength to make something happen and, in the process, didn’t lean on my husband’s "build anything" skills.

Before you judge, remember overuse of strengths is a common pitfall. Although you may not have had a bookshelf mistake, odds are many of your blunders are rooted in overusing what you do well.  So the first question is...

Do you know your strengths?

If not, I highly recommend you spend the $20 or so to take the test (here).  At a minimum, the test will give you the vocabulary for how to describe your "sweet spot" and, quite possibly, it will provide you with a broader framework for knowing where you can do your best work. (For the record, I'm not paid to make this endorsement.)

When you know your strengths, take an honest look at your failures and see if overplaying your strengths took a role. I think you'll be surprised.

In case you're wondering how our story ended, the weekend we picked up the shelves, Billy taught me how to measure on the diagonal in order to calculate "clearance." He also taught me how to hold a board steady so he could use a circular saw to trim inches off  the baseboard on our "custom" shelves.


Here's a closer look:

(Ahem, note to self: Georgia Tech architect students are taught how to measure properly, while UCLA Communications people skip those classes.)