Focusing on your strengths might be the biggest leadership mistake you can make.
In 2018, two Florida families lost everything they owned. They arrived home to see the ground beneath their house collapsed. The culprit? A sinkhole.
People smarter than me [geologists] say sinkholes happen when underground streams dry up and cause a massive gap beneath the earth’s surface. In time, the surface succumbs to its lack of support and the sinkhole swallows everything in its path – homes, vehicles, and sometimes people.
This idea often makes people insecure and overwhelmed as they realize the very ground they’re standing on isn’t stable.
If you read books on leadership, you’ve probably read that the most successful leaders work on improving their strengths, not their weaknesses. Why? Because leaders who focus on their strengths skyrocket their effectiveness. While leaders who focus on their weaknesses only create marginal improvement.
But this advice is only partly true.
People have strengths and weaknesses in two categories: competence and character.
Competence is your skill – it’s what you do. Character is your substance – it’s who you are.
The story of the Florida sinkhole is a picture of character.
Our character is the underlying ground upon which our competence is built. And when our character fails, it takes everything else with it. No matter how impressive the structure, if the foundation is faulty – it will all eventually come down.
Understanding this principle frames our previous “focus on your strengths” advice. Yes, in areas of competence – focus on your strengths and mitigate your weakness. But in areas of character – focus on your weaknesses.
Because if your character fails, everything fails.
And if it falls, you go with it.
Grab your journal and answer the following questions:
- Competence – Define your strengths: What things are easy for me but daunting to others? What do I enjoy doing? What area do people consider me the go-to person? What advice do people ask of me? If I could work in one area the rest of your life, it would be ____. Next, prioritize these ideas based on which you believe are your greatest strengths. Focus on improving that.
- Character – Define your weakness: Defining weaknesses in character is hard. Don’t be surprised if it takes you longer than the previous step. Here are some sample questions:
1: If I died, how would I want to be remembered? What are the gaps between who I want to be, and who I am? What needs to change as a result?
2: Who do I look up to? Why do I look up to them? How have I specifically seen their character on display? What’s the gap between what they do, and what I do?
3: What do I value? How has my behavior been misaligned with my values?
4: What areas do I consistently fail to show love? Why do I do that?