By Michael Gunther
I don’t know about you, but I’m always trying to develop my skills and abilities, whether it be professionally in management, speaking or consulting, or personally with eating habits, exercise routines or gardening skills. I don’t feel like I’m ever ‘there’—at the top, with no room for improvement.
I learned from my mentor many years ago that it’s important to be aware of weaknesses, or skills that don’t come naturally, but more important to focus on developing strengths. He said that if you look at any great leader you can clearly see the skills and abilities attributed to his or her success, but weaknesses are also apparent. The individual became a great leader because he or she had focused on and developed solid core abilities which overshadowed the weaknesses.
Growing up in a large Catholic family it was inevitable that someone would become a nun or a priest. My Aunt Gretchen devoted her life to the church as a nun and had high hopes for me and my siblings—all 17 of us, of her more than 80 nieces and nephews. She thought we could be the next Von Trapp family (whose story, you may remember, was captured in the movie the Sound of Music), but she failed to consider our family’s strengths—and singing was not one. I remember her visiting. She gathered us all in the living room, handed out hymnals, and attempted to practice some songs together. What I remember most is that it only took one or two songs for her to quickly realize we were no Von Trapp Family Singers. Vocal skills were definitely on the lower end of the talent pool in the Gunther household. I’m sure after many voice lessons and practices we could have acquired mediocre singing abilities, but we would have exerted a tremendous amount of time and energy trying to develop a weakness, only to get to achieve mediocrity.
In business, I see this same issue with leaders who either try to be great at everything or expect their employees to be exceptional in all aspects of the business. The reality is that the strongest business leaders are those who understand what they are best at, and supplement the weaker areas by hiring talented individuals with complementary strengths, or outsourcing those needs to a third party.
For example, I’ve seen business owners who are whizzes with financials. They know them inside and out and manage the finances for their organizations exceptionally well. But when it comes to selling their products and services, or managing their team, they lack serious abilities to make a positive impact. The smart ones have acknowledged their weaknesses and hired someone whose strengths are more suited to handle the other functions within the organization.
I’ve experienced other leaders who can’t seem to move their organization forward because they are trying to manage every aspect of their business. They don’t want to give up control on any key area—especially those areas in which they are weak. I often wonder if they are just afraid of what others will think if they expose their lack of ability in a certain area. Unfortunately, these individuals are typically preventing both themselves and their organizations from achieving significant results by not putting most of their energy into developing their strengths, and instead putting more energy into trying to maintain a weakness.
The Bottom Line
Know your organization’s strengths. Understand your own strengths. Focus on being the best at what your good at and surround yourself with others who have strengths or skills in the areas where you are weak. By applying this simple formula, you and your organization will become even stronger at what you do.