In my previous blog post, I encouraged you to do what you’re best at as playing to your strengths means that you do a better job, are happier and more resilient. There are, however, some circumstances where you might need to play to your weaknesses and do what you’re worst at. This can be really frustrating so I believe it is really important to realise what is going on and why you sometimes need to do this:

 

(1) As a learning experience.
There are some roles in which there is a defined career path that requires you to undertake certain roles along the way. This means that you might have to do some jobs that don’t play to your strengths. Similarly, I’ve seen secondments across disciplines used as a way of breaking down barriers between silos. Both of these are fine although I would suggest keeping them short and having absolute clarity of the learning objectives, of why you’re doing it.

(2) To be a team player
Teams present great opportunities for us to play to our strengths because teams need to be well-rounded whilst individual team members don’t. However, there might be occasions when you need to fill a gap in the team and do something that doesn’t play to your strengths. A great example of this would be in football when a defender sees an opportunity and goes on the attack with the ball and team-mates move into a different position to cover the gap. It might appear sub-optimal to have players playing out of position but that is what is best for the team in that situation. One of the clearest examples I’ve seen in football is when Manchester United lost two goalkeepers in a match (one to injury, one sent off) and Rio Ferdinand (a defender) had to play in goal. You can watch it (at 3 minutes 30 seconds) here. Ideal for Ferdinand? No. The right thing to do for the team in that situation? Yes.

(3) Because you have to
I absolutely believe in doing what you’re best at and I’m very fortunate in that I get to do that every day and I’m doing something that I love. This wasn’t an overnight journey; I’m married with two step-children, a Border Collie and a mortgage and whilst I’ve taken some big risks at times, they have always been calculated ones in the light of my responsibilities. The benefits of playing to your strengths are massive. Sometimes, we just need to be a little patient and play the long game in realising them.

 

If you find yourself in any (or all!) of the situations I described above, I’d advise some steps to keep you on track:

– Just because you’re not playing to your strengths, it doesn’t mean you should forget about them. Remember what your strengths are and don’t lose sight of why you’re temporarily playing to your weaknesses. Similarly, don’t be disheartened about the situation and about how you might feel.

– Find ways to develop your strengths and find opportunities to use them. You might be able to do this by volunteering for things in work or the opportunities might be outside of work. I’m often fascinated by how people in the wrong job achieve amazing things outside of work or in work projects they volunteer for.

– Move towards a vision of realising your strengths. Having this as a vision means that you will move in the right direction and will seize the right opportunities as they arise. Try to make sure that your direction of travel is in the right direction.

 

The benefits of playing to your strengths are significant, even if we do have to be a little patient at times. If you do need to play to your weaknesses for a little while, please do it with your eyes wide open.

What do you think? What experiences do you have where playing to your weaknesses was, briefly, the right thing to do?

Featured image, credit: lusi

3 Comments
  1. Hi Ian, thanks for this. The easy option of course is to always play to our strengths but it’s our weaknesses or rather the way in which we tackle and develop our weaknesses that define us. At times is might feel uncomfortable and even unnatural for us to step out of our comfort zones and leave ourselves vulnerable and open to ‘get things wrong’. It’s what makes us stronger and helps us learn – you can’t go through life with rose tinted glasses in your ‘safety bubble’. Let’s explore our weaknesses as in some cases you don’t know what you don’t know and those perceived weaknesses could in fact turn in to strengths that lead to new opportunities and a change in direction. You never know 🙂

    • Mike, thanks for the comment! I agree with part of what you write and totally disagree with the other part.

      I agree that we learn when we step out of our comfort zone and stretch ourselves, and that we learn a lot from the discomfort of those situations. Stepping outside of the safety bubble can lead to us getting things wrong and it is the ‘failures’ that can produce massive learning.

      Where I disagree completely is that you seem to be equating playing to our strengths with staying in our comfort zone, and your statement that it is the way in which we tackle and develop our weaknesses that define us. I think I need to be clearer about what I mean when I refer to strengths; I’m not referring to those things that we find it easy and comfortable to do, I’m referring to the innate talents in us, what we’re truly best at, which may or may not be getting developed and used. I think the call to play to our strengths is a challenging one which often requires us to step well outside of our comfort zone. It also requires us to face up to and acknowledge our weaknesses, and often make bold decisions in what we do about them. One thing that I haven’t yet addressed in my blog posts is how you can identify your strengths. There are various tools which can help, and I’m a fan of StrengthsFinder which has proved to be valid, reliable, and beneficial to many people. I firmly believe that discovering your strengths can help you to make those bold moves outside of your comfort zone in playing to your strengths and into areas where the experiences and learning are most fruitful.

      Thank you for making me think with a good challenge! My reply doesn’t say everything that I want to say, but your comment has prompted me to write two blog posts – one about what I mean by strengths, and another on whether playing to strengths = staying in comfort zone. Thanks!