What you do with your weakness could mean the difference between success and failure.
A Successful Approach to Weakness
Goodwin’s book explores Lincoln’s approach to his “enemies” and his weaknesses. At the beginning of his presidency, he appointed each of his Republican rivals – many of whom had run against him for the party nomination – to key cabinet posts. (Now isn’t that a stark contrast to our current political climate?)
Lincoln consistently engaged this diverse collection of opinions and forged a common unity among these strong leaders as they faced massive leadership challenges (abolishing the slave trade and uniting a country on the brink of and then in the midst of civil war).
Lincoln knew he was not a perfect leader. In fact, he had profound weaknesses, but in assembling this “team of rivals” he made himself much stronger. One has to wonder if he would have succeeded had he surrounded himself with loyal, “yes men.”
Lincoln’s approach stands in stark contrast to one of his generals.
A Failed Response to Weakness
General George B. McClellan was first general-in-chief of the Union Army. His weaknesses cost him the confidence of the president and ultimately his job. (McLellan was replaced by Ulysses Grant, who defeated the Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army.) McClellan’s weaknesses prolonged the Civil War and cost the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers.
In an article on his leadership blog, Michael Hyatt highlighted some of McClellan’s weaknesses. https://michaelhyatt.com/5-characteristics-of-weak-leaders.html Those weaknesses include hesitating to take definitive action, complaining about insufficient resources, refusing to take responsibility, abusing leadership privileges, and insubordination. When Lincoln relieved McClellan of his duty in preparation to appoint Grant, the president famously said, “If General McClellan does not want to use the army, I would like to borrow it for a time.”
What you do with your weakness not only impacts your life, but also the lives of everyone around you.
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Responding to Weaknesses
Your relationship with your weaknesses will be determined by your level of self-awareness and humility.
I recently wrote about the importance of self-awareness and how we now have research which validates how self-awareness is a powerful indicator of future success. A 2010 Cornell study indicated that a high self-awareness score by a company executive was the strongest predictor of their overall success.
You need to know what your weaknesses are. And if you don’t know, just take a poll of those closest to you or those you work with. Trust me – they know!
And once you’ve discovered those, you’ll need to make a distinction.
First, are these character weaknesses or competency weaknesses?
Character weaknesses are absolutely deserving of your attention. Dishonesty, integrity, forgetfulness, uncontrollable anger, pride, or bitterness – these all must be addressed. If these areas aren’t transformed, they’ll sink us.
However, when it comes to competency weaknesses, we may or may not need to throw our efforts into fixing all of those weaknesses.
Weaknesses And StrengthsFinder
We do need the humility to admit we cannot do it all, much less do it all on our own. Humility invites other people to contribute their strengths in places we have a weakness.
This is the philosophy behind The StrengthsFinder Movement founded by Donald Clifton. The world got to know Strengths Finder first through Marcus Buckingham’s book, Now Discover Your Strengths, and then Tom Rath’s follow-up, StrengthsFinder 2.0. Rath’s book is the best-selling non-fiction book in Amazon’s history, according to one source I read.
In writing about Clifton’s contributions, The Positive Encourager wrote…
“Clifton spent much of his life studying great performers. Based on these findings, he challenged the deficit model of development. Such models paid lip service to people’s strengths. A typical one hour performance appraisal session, for example, might involve the manager saying to an employee: ‘Right, you do these things well, so there is no need to explore these skills. Let’s spend the next 55 minutes looking at your weaknesses and areas for development. You need to become a more well-rounded person.’ Don and other thinkers turned this approach on its head. In Now, Discover Your Strengths he said: ‘Each person’s greatest room for growth is in the areas of his or her greatest strengths.’ The Gallup approach underlines the fact that: People with particular gifts in a specific activity can quickly reach the equivalent of 7/10. People can then build on these strengths to embark on the exponential climb to reaching 10/10.
‘But what about a person’s weaknesses?” somebody may ask. ‘Shouldn’t these also be addressed?’ The Gallup approach was sometimes criticised for overlooking this area, but actually it didn’t. Now, Discover Your Strengths says: ‘You will excel only by maximizing your strengths, never by fixing your weaknesses. This is not the same as saying ‘ignore your weaknesses…’The point here is not that you should always forgo this kind of weakness fixing. The point is that you should see it for what it is: damage control, not development. And as we mentioned earlier, damage control can prevent failure, but it will never elevate you to excellence.”
Remember…“Your relationship with your weaknesses will be determined by your level of self-awareness and humility.”
Weaknesses And Team-Building
Building a strong team means admitting your weaknesses and inviting other people’s strengths in those places. You may have to do some things which don’t come naturally, but no one is helped by all of your “work” being done in an area where you are weak. (Again, make sure these strengths and weaknesses are less about character and more about personality and competency. We don’t get to punt our character weakness to someone else, nor do we get to avoid doing things in our families which we’re not so good at. I’m not great at dishes, but my wife doesn’t care!)
I applied the power of this approach to weaknesses when I was interviewing with the church where I now currently serve. At that point, I was on the staff of a much larger church, but only on the executive team, not the Lead Pastor. I was interviewing for the Lead Pastor role at this new church and I knew without the right team around me, my weaknesses would be liabilities.
During one of my visits, I spent a morning with the executive pastor of the church. Clovis Barnett had been leading the church during the interim between lead pastors. Clovis was doing a great job keeping the staff together and the church moving forward. During the transition, attendance was steady, giving was steady and the church had become debt-free. In the church world, this was a big accomplishment!
Over a couple hours that morning in his living room, I saw how my strengths and weaknesses aligned with Clovis’ strengths and weaknesses. He brought strengths in places where I had weaknesses and vice versa. If we could forge a friendship and significant trust, I felt like he and I could accomplish a great deal together. Meeting Clovis was the clinching step for me in our move to Prescott in order for me to become the Lead Pastor of Cornerstone Church.
When building a team around us, we need people offering their best to make the whole better.
Turning Individual Liabilities into Group Assets: 5 Steps Forward When Addressing Weakness
If our relationship with our weaknesses will be determined by our level of self-awareness and humility, then what do our next steps look like? How do we increase our self-awareness and humility? These five actions are huge!
Reject ignorance by pursuing self-awareness.
Contrary to popular opinion, what you don’t know can hurt you. Often, foolishness or laziness keeps us from self-awareness. Either we don’t want to know or we’re too lazy to figure it out. Our ignorance can hurt other people too. We have to fight the temptation to be lazy or the tendency to be foolish. We reject ignorance and we embrace the truth, even when it stings!
Invite the contributions of others whose strengths match their weaknesses.
As self-awareness grows, we have an opportunity. We can invite others to contribute their strengths where we have weaknesses or we can be a control-freak, hoarding everything. We need to remind ourselves constantly – we are better than me! A strong team spending the majority of their individual time on things which make them feel stronger and in areas where they excel is much better than one person doing it all.
Discern the difference between a character weakness and a competence weakness.
With character weaknesses, we invite God to work and transform us. Or we embrace God’s grace and allow them to be a place where we find God’s strength to be sufficient.
With competency weaknesses, however, we triage. We get better if we can and get help when and where we can’t.
Know the difference.
Anticipate an unprotected strength by inviting accountability.
An unprotected strength is a weakness. Unprotected strengths can lead to arrogance. Arrogance is a weakness and the antithesis of healthy accountability. As we’ve said here before, healthy accountability cannot be imposed; it can only be invited.
Reject arrogance by living with humility.
None of us are above or beyond anything. And when we think we’re invulnerable, we’re on dangerous ground. In his letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul wrote, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” The writer of the Proverbs wrote, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”
When we live with humility, we’re always on guard, seeking new and greater awareness of our deficiencies and potential downfalls. As Ryan Holiday says in his book by the same title, ego is the enemy.
What Did I Miss?
I’d love to hear from you. What have you seen or learned about working with character and competency weaknesses? How have you seen the power of self-awareness and humility in responding to weakness? What teams have you been a part of where everyone offered their strengths and made the team better?
Share a comment below!