Third in a series that addresses misconceptions about leading from our strengths
God created you and those around you with unique strengths and has placed you together to be more together than you can be alone. But misconceptions can get in the way of learning to lead from your strengths. This series reveals common misconceptions about strengths and the truths behind the myths.
Misconception #3: Focus on Your Weaknesses
People are willing to spend plenty to improve themselves economically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. In 2011, the U.S. self-improvement market was worth an estimated $11.17 billion, with a forecasted 5.5% average yearly gain for the next few years. The most popular products target our weaknesses, from 12-step programs (emotional challenges) to how-to books (intellectual or skill challenges) to start-up business guides (financial challenges). Our human perspective bends towards shoring up our weaknesses – those personal qualities we feel we are lacking – and working to get them to the level of our strengths.
This trend to “fix” our weaknesses is documented further by leadership development firm Zenger Folkman, which recently conducted follow up interviews with clients for whom they created personal growth plans. Researchers discovered that 60% of clients continue to be focused on working on their weaknesses 12-18 months after receiving personalized coaching to develop their strengths.
At first glance, the idea of targeting our weaknesses to bring them up to the level of our strengths makes sense. Naturally, Christ-followers are called to face weaknesses head on and seek to overcome them. In that scenario, we train our practice arrows on our weaknesses, placing them at the target’s center.
God’s view of the target is different. He places our strengths as the bulls-eye on which we should aim – knowing that along the way we’ll hit some of the weaknesses on the target, too.
It is easy to get stuck on what needs to be improved, to the detriment of cultivating our strengths. Yet when we focus on our weaknesses, not our strengths, our target gets off-kilter. A focus on weakness obliterates these three key benefits of leading from your strengths.
One problem with targeting weakness is inefficiency. In a Zenger Folkman study conducted with 141 leaders, one group focused on their weaknesses, making a 12% improvement after the allotted time period. Meanwhile, the group which worked on a combination of strengths and weaknesses improved 36% — three times as much. A sole focus on weakness slows progress and hinders how effectively you can use your strengths. Focusing on developing strengths concurrently with weaknesses is a more effective way to address both.
The “Renaissance man” ideal has become legend. This drive to become an artistic and intellectual superhero – to possess wide interests and become an expert in many areas – has its roots in humanism, in which man is the center of the universe and limitless in his capacities for development. Yet truly well-rounded individuals are rare. The truth is that vast majority of people are gifted with specific strengths, rather than an array. To strive to be someone or something you are not by shoring up weaknesses is self-deceptive and dishonest, rebuking the unique way God has created you. By embracing your strengths, you demonstrate gratitude for the opportunities God gives you.
Christ-followers are not called to steward their weaknesses. We’re called to steward our strengths. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10, ESV). Why coddle along those qualities that don’t build up the Kingdom? By investing time and energy in improving your weaker traits you may become a master at none … particularly in to the point of relinquishing the natural bent with which you’ve already been gifted. To spend excessive amounts of time focusing on our weaknesses is poor stewardship of God-given abilities, time, and energy.
Instead, we are called to focus our energies on cultivating our strengths. Whatever strengths you possess have been woven into your being by God with the express purpose of imparting His grace to the world around you.
Take comfort that your weaknesses are part of the target, but you needn’t focus on them. As you pick up your bow and arrow, aim at your strengths. More often than not, you’ll hit the bulls-eye. Along the way you’ll take out some of the weaknesses, too.