Q: I keep hearing advice that I should build on my strengths, but it makes more sense to me to fix my weaknesses. What am I missing?
A: Development planning requires prioritization, so determine where you’ll get the most for your efforts.
The inner game
Think of yourself as a whole person, setting aside any sense of strengths vs. weaknesses or good vs. bad. Relax and settle into some time for reflection, taking some deep breaths and letting go of any preconceptions that may limit your thinking.
While in this peaceful state, allow yourself to experience the deeper essence of who you are as a whole person, not the disparate parts or the personas that you employ in day-to-day life. What do you treasure about yourself? What are the gifts that you bring to the world? If you aren’t used to thinking this way, it might even be uncomfortable. If you’re stuck, imagine that someone who cares about you is offering a description. What does your best friend see?
Next, think about the ways you show up in various settings. What attitudes help you move forward? Do they reflect the inner you in ways you value? If so, consider whether you employ them as fully as you could.
In this context, development becomes the path you take to most fully actualize your inner self. Strengths and weaknesses are simply a way of defining whether you’re bringing your best self to the settings you’ve chosen to engage in.
The outer game
To move forward, focus on one personal characteristic, for example, that you’re decisive. Now think through the following questions:
• How consistent are you in making decisions?
• How satisfied are you with the quality of your decisions?
• What underlying characteristics do you have that enable quality decisionmaking?
• Likewise, what characteristics detract from the quality of your decisions?
If you approach this as improving a weakness, you’d look at ways that you can fine-tune your skills. For example, you may feel that you make poor decisions under pressure. In that case, consider developing your skills for negotiating more time for decisions. You will need to be selective to pick improvement opportunities that will truly be of benefit.
To build on your strengths, focus instead on finding opportunities to demonstrate your skills. Perhaps you’re a very strategic thinker in a tactical role. Look for opportunities to use your strategic skills: volunteering for special projects or applying for different positions that need those skills.
Focus on developing in ways that are exciting and interesting. If you find yourself saying “I should get better at so-and-so,” find a different direction that is more inspiring to you.
The last word
No one can be good at everything, so select your development opportunities carefully.