The Currency of Success - Interpersonal Intelligence™

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Build On Your Strengths — Avoid The Five Fatal Flaws

There is one major thing to remember when you want to succeed in your chosen profession, and in your specific job; you need to know your strengths and build on them.

Does this sound like familiar advice, or is it contrary to what you have always been told? It’s more likely to be the latter; we are often reminded that we all have strengths and weaknesses, and although our strengths are important, it’s our weaknesses we need to focus on. We need to turn them into strengths, or — at the very least — simply get better at doing what we currently aren’t so great at.

The problem with this approach is that it assumes weaknesses can be turned into strengths. It assumes that we can suddenly go from not being able to do something well to being an expert in it. And it also assumes that our strengths are as good as they’re ever going to get, and therefore don’t need to be thought of any more; they are what they are and that’s that.

The Truth Behind Your Weaknesses

The truth is, some people just aren’t good at some things, and no matter how hard they try, they just can’t seem to do whatever it is they are trying to do. This could be due to personality, comfort, intelligence, opportunities, or just because they are not interested in learning more about a subject they dislike.

However, when it comes to your strengths, there is no ‘end goal’. Strengths can always be made stronger. They can always become better.

So doesn’t it make more sense to focus on what you are already good at and become an expert in that particular area, than trying to spread your learning and developing across all areas, even if you only enjoy some of them? By working on the former premise, you are much more likely to become successful; other people can carry out the duties you see as your weaknesses, and you can become known for what you’re good at. After all, no one can do everything, and outsourcing is part and parcel of running a business.

The Best Solution

Think of it this way. If you’re good at problem solving but poor at goal setting, what is going to help you more? Working on your goal setting abilities and then becoming reasonable at both skills, or letting someone else deal with the goal setting while you push forward with becoming exceptional at problem solving so that, although you’re poor at one thing, you’re the expert in another?

It’s clear that striving to be better at things you already enjoy and have a sound basis in is going to be a much more producutive use of your time than struggling with something you don’t enjoy and perhaps even actively resent having to do. It’s a missed opportunity, and in business this is not something that can be easily forgiven.

The Five Fatal Flaws

So, if we are recommending that you should be working on your strengths rather than your weaknesses, why are we mentioning flaws at all, let alone five fatal ones? Because these are behaviors that you should change or stop doing that the research* shows are career derailers. If you are seen by others as exhibiting any of these five regularly you will be heading for a crash. They will derail your career. The fatal flaws include:

  1. Inability to learn from mistakes
  2. Lack of core interpersonal skills and competencies.
  3. Lack of openness to new or different ideas.
  4. Lack of accountability.
  5. Lack of initiative

What is interesting about the five fatal flaws is that these traits reflect a “pattern of inactivity.” “It is not the pattern of someone who is doing too much of something, but the pattern of someone doing way too little.”

In my experience, #4, not taking responsibility (or excessive defensiveness) and #2, inability to effectively relate to people are the most frequent issues I encounter with executives who are referred for coaching. And…of those, “not taking responsibility” (excessive defensiveness) is the most difficult to turn around because, I believe, it’s a symptom of deep-seated insecurity. And, to make matters even more difficult, those executives frequently come across as super confident when in fact they are really insecure. They overcompensate.

How do you help someone who can’t admit they need help? It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to help someone who is so insecure that they have built up an elaborate defense system of “I’m right, you’re wrong,” and has climbed their way to the top over the bodies of others whom they’ve slain (so to speak) to get there.

So, if you are a leader of an organization, build on your strengths, and encourage your employees to do the same. But, watch out for and quickly correct those five fatal flaws.

* From the book, The Extraordinary Leader, by Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman


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