Over the last decade, the predominant and popular answer to the common question “Should I focus on leveraging my strengths or developing my weaknesses?” has been to place significantly more energy on strength development. Marcus Buckingham wasn’t the only one to advocate for focusing on your strengths instead of spending time and energy correcting your weaknesses, but he helped popularize the idea in his best-selling and excellent book Now, Discover Your Strengths.
For the most part, I agree. But there is one big caveat. You must be at least average in important areas of your leadership or those weaknesses will overshadow your strengths.
The longer I lead, the more leery I am of bringing people to the team who dismissively shrug off their weaknesses because their strengths are so pronounced. For example, the person who says, “I am a big picture guy, an idea guy, but that means I am not really good at the details” still needs to be able to answer email and knock out some tasks. The person who says, “I am a task-oriented leader; just load my plate with work and I knock it out, but people can get in my way at times” needs to be able to connect with the team relationally. One doesn’t have to be stellar in everything, but there is a bare minimum of competency in all of the critical things or one just cannot function on the team.
Yes, focus on your strengths, but here are three places you must be at least average:
You don’t have to be the one who “owns the room” or “woos people with your personality.” In fact, many great leaders are introverts. You can do your best thinking alone and prefer the clarity you find in solitude, but you must be able to relate to people. If you cannot converse with people, offer encouragement, and connect relationally, all of your other skills can be muted by poor emotional intelligence.
You don’t have to be an excellent speaker or writer. You can even hate public speaking. A highly effective leader on my team hates speaking from a stage and delegates that opportunity to others. But to lead others you must be able to formulate thoughts and communicate them clearly to others. You must be at least average in this or it doesn’t matter how intelligent you are, how much experience you have, or how skilled you are in your discipline.
You don’t have to be an organizational guru, time management phenom, or administrative ninja. You can surely rely on people around you who excel in administration, but you must be able to execute what you say you will do. At minimum, you must be able to respond to emails and meet deadlines on assignments or you will slow everyone else down. A disorganized and unresponsive leader slows down the whole team.
Depending on the context, there are obviously other skills where leaders must be at least average. You won’t be deeply skilled in every aspect of your leadership, but if you don’t get relationships, communication, and organization to at least minimum, the skills you are strong in will be overshadowed.