Weaknesses are not the opposite of strengths – don’t ignore them

I’m a huge fan of strengths-based approaches but it worries me when people misunderstand and suggest that this means ignoring weaknesses because it doesn’t, and I think the confusion often comes from a lack of understanding of what we really mean by the terminology.

I have got strengths, things that I’m naturally talented at and that come easy to me. I’ve also got things that I’m not naturally talented at, what Gallup defines as lesser/non-talents. Weaknesses aren’t the opposite of strengths and Gallup has two really helpful definitions:

(1) A weakness is “anything that gets in the way of your success.1

(2) A weakness is “a shortage or misapplication of talent, skill, or knowledge that causes problems for you or others.2

If I examine my own weaknesses, most of them are consequences of me over-using a strength or getting in my own way, with only a minority connected to my lesser talents and I find the same to be true of my clients.

If I’m working with you on a weakness, we won’t spend all the time dwelling on areas of lesser talent and trying to make them strengths. Rather, we’ll be having a positive, resourceful, empowering discussion about how you can use your strengths (and your team’s) and overcome/ work around/ mitigate the weakness.

I can tell when my clients truly understand this when I hear them openly acknowledging and discussing their weaknesses whilst simultaneously saying ‘I am enough’ and talking about ‘being more of who I already am’. Weaknesses are not the opposite of strengths and we shouldn’t simply ignore them.

I’ve previously written about why I believe the common decathlon/heptathlon metaphor is a poor representation of strengths3, and I’ll close with the same closing words from that article: