Strengths vs. Weaknesses

Category: Strategy Published on Oct 11 2016

I keep coming up against two opposing paradigms.


The first is the idea of working from our strengths. Popularized in the book Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, the main concept is to identify and leverage your strengths to become a success. While I love the idea, I struggle with the overall and perhaps oversimplified corollary, which says ignore all your weaknesses.

The second idea is older and is known as the Pareto Principle or the 80-20 Rule. The concept here is that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. An interesting corollary of this rule is that it’s easier and faster to go from 20% ability to 80% ability than to move from 80% to 100%. Paraphrasing, it’s easier to overcome a weakness (note I’m talking from a company perspective, not necessarily a personal one) than it is to become significantly better at something that you already excel at.


At first glance, these two theories appear to be diametrically opposed. There seems to be an either-or choice.


I disagree. I believe that the blending of both is where small businesses are able to become great. The ability to balance the opposing priorities of identifying and mitigating weaknesses while perfecting strengths is the key to success.


If weaknesses are left unidentified, uninvestigated, and undiscussed they are virtual time bombs waiting to blow up and undermine and possibly destroy your business. When they are uncovered, reviewed, and analyzed in combination with knowing your strengths you now have the opportunity to find ways of minimizing the potential dangers weaknesses represent. In fact, you may find ways that by playing on your strengths you are able to completely neutralize weaknesses or make them irrelevant.


In reality, if our strengths are core to our uniqueness and what the market wants from our company, we only need to be adequate or good enough in the areas of our weakness. But if we don’t work on them, we leave the door open for a competitor to come in and steal our best clients, especially if we have underestimated the importance and impact of those weaknesses.


So yes, please continue to get better at what you do. Celebrate your successes and your growth. Focus on improving your strengths. But be aware that if you choose to totally ignore your weaknesses they won’t go away, and one day they may cause you a great deal of pain.