What makes you tick, what gets you going? What are you good at? What are you bad at? Self-aware leaders always ask themselves these questions. They are curious, they seek out information and embrace the answers.
Taking the time to be self-aware, to really consider one’s strengths and weaknesses, to build self-understanding, is not something that most leaders do. They are too busy focusing on the multiple tasks of any given day and on things considered far more important. Developing and practicing self-awareness may not get the attention that it warrants, yet it is one of the most crucial things leaders can do to raise their own and their organization’s performance.
Like many things, over time we can get better through self-awareness. Growing awareness allows us to more clearly on building our strengths while intentionally mitigating and managing our weaknesses.
Strength in Vulnerability
The process of naming one’s own weaknesses is actually a strength. People respect a leader who recognizes that they are not perfect. They respect the honesty and courage it takes to admit those weaknesses, particularly because so many leaders do not have the strength or character required for honest self-assessment – and even rarer is the leader who articulates them.
By showing vulnerability, leaders establish trust and show they are approachable. The act of showing vulnerability works to build solidarity between leaders and staff, and being honest about our weaknesses helps us understand what we need most from those around us.
When leaders act as though they are perfect at everything, they begin alienating their staff. This lack of self-awareness can be extremely costly to them and even the organisation as a whole. Nothing undermines the effectiveness of a leader faster than failing to admit. Emphasizing one’s own perfection has the potential effect of showing staff that they are not not in need. Leaders are human: we are not perfect, we say and do things that we shouldn’t, when we fail to admit this, others won’t respect us or follow us as leaders.
Focus on Both Strengths and Weaknesses
While the ability and desire to recognize one’s strengths and weaknesses is crucial, what we do with the knowledge is perhaps more critical. In recent years various authors and researchers have strongly pushed us to focus on improving strengths, while not worrying much about weaknesses.
The key premise of this belief is that each person’s greatest potential for growth is in the areas of their greatest strengths. Thus, if one is focusing a lot of energy on their weaknesses, they are taking time away from working on their strengths. Most people would agree that fixing weakness is harder than building on our strengths one already has.
While I believe the emphasis on strengths-based leadership has merits, focusing only on strengths has its limitations when our weaknesses are related to how we can relate to others. Relational weaknesses have the potential to be so detrimental and fatal to the leader that simply working around them will not suffice. Sometimes it is imperative to work on and improve areas of weakness. I firmly believe that with the right motivation, weaknesses can and should be improved.
Working on and Managing Weaknesses
Once relational weaknesses are identified, the next step is to reflect on the impact they may have on people around. Strong leaders care about the people they work with and do not want to hurt their feelings or emotionally harm them. If one’s relational weaknesses create a negative impact for self and others, that should provide inspiration to work at mitigating them.
Notice I didn’t say fix or root out the weakness. In reality, often the best we can hope for is to mitigate their impact. The difficulty of fixing relational weaknesses is that they are primarily a result of personality. Personalities are a very difficult thing to change, and many would say even go on to say it is impossible to change.
But that is not the case, I have been able to motivate, change and inspire the most adamant leaders. This is not the case.