Should you focus on your strengths or improve your weaknesses?

I had the opportunity to ask a senior executive at a Women In Tech event recently whether one should focus on bolstering their strengths or improving their weaknesses. She told me you should always focus on improving your strengths.

I recently learned more about my strengths through a formal assessment called the Clifton Strengths assessment.

The Clifton Strengths assessment asks you to rate yourself on a simple scale across 177 different items. At the end you get a top 5 list of your strengths.

According to the Clifton Strengths assessment my strengths are—I like to solve problems (restorative), I like to ponder the future (futuristic), I like people (relator), I like to learn new things (learner) and I'm inquisitive about everything (input).

That's great! Now I know my strengths, should I focus on improving them like the executive I spoke to advised? Or should I look for obvious gaps and focus on those?

I've been pondering this for a couple of weeks. After doing some reading, this is where I landed.

Knowing your strengths is useful but it doesn't tell you if you're actually good at any of them. It also doesn't tell you how good your strengths are in relation to other people. 

A persistent focus on strengths can blind you to the hard truths about yourself. Really smart and capable people can have glaring weak spots and counterproductive work habits. There may be aspects of your performance you could improve, but you risk never finding those weaker areas if you continually focus on what you're good at.

That's why it's important to get honest and constructive feedback. It can be difficult to get and is dependent on the work culture you're in, how open you are to coaching and how effective your boss is at providing it. Coaching can help improve weak areas as an avenue for professional growth and it has research evidence to support its effectiveness.

Instead of focusing on your strengths, a better way is to develop your self-awareness. Work hard, know yourself and know what you want to achieve. Let your goals dictate where you put your energy and focus, regardless of whether they're a strength or a weakness. Setting incremental goals and adapting to feedback is a growth mindset and a better path to achieving higher success.

 

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Why you need a challenge network

Adam Grant recently started a new weekly podcast called WorkLife. I highly recommend adding it to your list of must-listen podcasts each week. 

The first episode is about criticism in the workplace. More specifically it's about why you should like it and why you should want more of it. 

Grant interviews Ray Dalio the CEO of Bridgewater Associates—widely known as the most successful hedge fund in the world. Bridgewater is known for its unique workplace culture of radical transparency. Employees at Bridgewater give each other immediate, candid feedback, all the time. Opinions are out in the open.

Bridgewater's culture of always-on radical transparency is extreme. The point Grant makes is there's value in getting regular, constructive feedback on your performance. Grant champions the idea of developing your own mini-version of Bridgewater's radical transparency via a challenge network—a group of individuals you trust to give you regular and constructive feedback.

To develop your challenge network you have to do two things, a) be open to receiving negative feedback and b) be prepared to actively ask for it. A robust challenge network turns every meeting, every presentation, and every communication into an avenue for development and growth.

Keep in mind also, most people don't actively ask for feedback. If they do, it's usually only from their immediate leader. Once you start asking for constructive feedback from your peers or others you work alongside, it's an easy way to stand out and to showcase your willingness to improve and grow. Do it right and you'll learn a lot about yourself along the way, too.