Managing your Weaknesses

When it comes to managing your career, you need to be aware of your own weaknesses.

A weakness that’s known can be worked around. A weakness that you’re not even aware of will sink your career.

If you aren’t sure of your weaknesses, simply ask your boss, colleagues, and staff for feedback on what you could do differently to be better at your job.

Trust me... they all know your weaknesses.

They might not always want to tell you, but they know.

The key is to give them permission to tell you.

Once you know your weaknesses, you’ll want to figure out what to do about them.

The right next step depends on three factors:

  1. The degree by which your weakness impacts job performance;
  2. The severity of the weakness;
  3. Your seniority level.

If your job doesn’t necessitate being strong in your area of weakness, you do not need to worry about these areas.

For example, I lack skills around design, aesthetics, or style. Fortunately, my career success is not dependent on needing to be good at those skills.

If your current job necessitates strength in your weakest areas, you want to strategically consider whether you want to continue pursuing a career path where your weakness is a liability.

For example, when I started working for myself 17 years ago, I was not a strong writer. However, I was committed to being a work-from-home dad. Since broadband, streaming video, and video conferencing were not yet widely available, I concluded that in order for me to get customers or clients without traveling, I had to learn how to communicate (via the Internet) in writing.

Next, you want to consider the severity of your weakness. If the weakness is minor, it can make sense to invest in improving your weakness enough that it no longer holds you back. If the weakness is significant, the tradeoff required to improve the skill will be more significant. You want to think carefully about choosing a career path that avoids your most severe weaknesses or prepare to invest a lot of energy to address it.

Let’s say you’re a talented software developer with a goal of being Chief Technology Officer. However, everyone keeps giving you feedback that your people skills are weak. You need to make a strategic choice to either be a high-level individual contributor (such as a product architect or distinguished engineer with no direct reports) or invest energy in improving your people skills so it doesn’t hold you back.

It’s a strategic choice with no obvious right/wrong answer. The only thing I’ll mention is that it’s a decision with a major tradeoff either way. Pick which tradeoff you’d rather deal with.

Finally, you must consider your seniority level. If you’re an individual contributor, you will face the choices I’ve described above. However, if you’re an executive with multiple direct reports and staff, you have another option.

When you have a staffing budget, you want to “hire into your weaknesses.”

If you’re a startup CEO that’s poor at finance, you have the option of hiring someone that’s really good at what you’re bad at doing.

For example, I’m not great at managing details. As a result, I’ve built a team of people that are extremely good at doing that. That was a deliberate choice I made well over a decade ago.

If you’re on the verge of being promoted into a managerial role, you want to recognize that at a certain point in your career ladder, you have the option to hire into your weaknesses.

I’m working with a client right now that has spent nearly all of his career managing less than ten employees. He is now managing a team of 90+ people and doesn’t yet fully appreciate he has the option to hire staff to compensate for his weaknesses.

We all have strengths and weaknesses. That’s a given. The only questions that remain are whether you’re aware of your own weaknesses, and whether or not you’ve made a wise choice in how to address your weaknesses.

What are your weaknesses? What’s your strategy for dealing with them?

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