A Debilitating Weakness

While I agree with the counsel and coaching for leaders to focus predominately on developing and utilizing their strengths, if a leader does not move a weakness to at least average, the weakness will become a debilitating one that overshadows the strong points of the leader. A debilitating weakness will cause the leader to lose an essential trait that leaders initially possess—credibility.

Perhaps you have seen examples like these:

  • Johnny is an extremely gifted teacher of the Bible. The student ministry grows quickly under his leadership. Relationally he excels. The students and the adult leaders love him. But behind-the-scenes, he is an administrative mess. Important details are continually missed. He knows it is a weakness; He even jokes about it frequently. But he wrongly assumes it does not matter or that someone will always be there to pick up the pieces because, after all, “he is not a detail guy.” Instead of seeking to raise his administrative skills to a point where he could be conversant with someone he recruits to help, he shrugs off the problem. And in time, credibility suffers. Sadly his strengths are perceived as less strong and are less appreciated.
  • Jenny runs a division in her company. She was put in the role because of her precise planning, her systematic thinking, and her ability to effortlessly manage seemingly hundreds of details at once. But relationally she really struggles. She does not have the hearts of those she leads because she is unable to connect. Instead of developing her ability to converse with her peers or her team, she over-relies on her superb planning skills. And over time the team loses trust in their leader.

Two recent leadership books, both based on significant research, affirm the danger of never addressing a debilitating weakness:

  • In The Leadership Code, the authors articulate four essentials of all leaders: strategist, executor, talent manager, and people developer. They write that most leaders have a towering strength, but “all leaders must be at least average in their ‘weaker’ leadership domains.”
  • In Multipliers, Liz Wiseman articulates that leaders who are able to multiply the giftedness of others are talent magnets, liberators, challengers, debate makers, and investors. Yet she emphasizes that effective leaders typically excel in one or a few of the disciplines while simultaneously neutralizing their weaknesses. She writes, “The truth is that you do not need to be fabulous at everything. You just can’t be bad. You simply need to neutralize the weakness and move it into the middle, acceptable zone.”

So what should a leader do?

1)    Seek feedback

As a leader, you likely know your weaknesses. If you have led for any period of time, you already know what aspects of your role don’t come as easily to you. What you need others to help you determine is if any of your weaknesses fall into the category of “debilitating”—meaning, do your weaknesses overpower your strengths?

2)    Become conversant

While you don’t need to excel in all areas related to your role, you at least need to be conversant so that you can effectively work with others who are strong in the areas in which you are weak.

3)    Delegate

When you know your weak spots and are able to converse openly with others about them, you can share/hand the work off to other capable leaders. You can truly delegate instead of merely dumping work on others.

So don’t invest your development time attempting to turn your weaknesses into strengths. But if you have a leadership weakness that is a debilitating one, it is extremely unwise to only focus on your strengths.