The Question that Taps the Power of Complaining
Just say it, “Everyone sucks at some things.”
Call a leadership team meeting to gripe about weaknesses.
Write your direct reports’ names on a whiteboard and list their weaknesses. Illustrate the list with behaviors.
- What do you wish Bob would do better?
- What is Mary doing poorly?
- When Fred fails, what is he not doing?
Stop pretending everyone is great at everything.
Pick the scab off weaknesses or you’ll meet frustration every morning.
When teammates don’t have weaknesses:
- Leadership needs to know their team members better.
- Team members are pulling the wool over leadership’s eyes.
- Organizational values include, “Don’t make waves,” and, “Let’s play pretend.”
Remarkable weaknesses accompany remarkable strengths. The more outstanding someone is, the greater their corresponding weakness.
The Question that Taps the Power of Complaining:
What are you willing to do about your complaints?
The more you complain, the more opportunities you create.
- Prioritize. Is this weakness worth addressing? “No,” is an option. Smile and carry on. Stop being so frustrated about things you don’t care to change.
- Buy-in. What are you willing to do to strengthen their weakness, specifically?
- Minimize. How might you minimize a weakness?
- Reassign. What responsibility do you need to take away to protect them from their weakness?
- Refocus. How might you focus someone toward greater usefulness?
You spend less energy pretending and more energy performing, when your weaknesses are known.
Weaknesses are like noses.
If you want some real fun, call the leadership team together and write your own names on the whiteboard. (I assume you’re committed to seek each other’s highest good.)
Warning: Don’t pick the scab off, if you don’t have courage and compassion to deal with the blood. Just go on pretending.
How might leaders tap the power of complaining?
Great post to remind us that everyone has weaknesses and they should be identified and improved. These are tough conversations to have. And as the axiom goes, you might improve one area just to fall off in another. This has been an experience I have had both personally and with direct reports.
This is the truly tough part of leadership, raising weaknesses in a way that doesn’t cause defensiveness or worse. Tools like “creating safety” through shared purpose and story-telling is key. This is where leadership branches into an art as opposed to the science of management.
Thanks Chris. I’m a huge fan of the strength-based movement. But, some weaknesses block or hinder our strengths.
Safety through shared purpose really speaks to me. I can see how helpful it is to ask, “Why are we even doing this?” Great insight.
Dan, managers should and can know their direct reports’ strengths and weaknesses even before the job offer is made.
Managing a weakness is much harder than managing a strength therefore, hire for strengths and manage the weaknesses.
Thanks Bob. The value of honest conversations before a job offer is important and hard to do. A job interview is often a conversation between two liars.
Perhaps calling people on fluff when they talk about their weaknesses is one way. Another might be to share your own.
Commit to hire people with weaknesses. 🙂 I’m thankful you shared your insights.
Thank you for calling a weakness a weakness and not an opportunity. It IS an opportunity for change but a weakness is a weakness and a weakness provides an opportunity. Let’s call a spade a spade and then fix it. (The same goes for “problems” – problems are problems that present an opportunity…but they are problems.) Whew…thanks for another home-run Dan!
Thanks Margie. I feel your passion. You can’t deal with it until you have courage to name it.
Thanks for stopping by to give an affirmation today. It means a lot.
Personal attacks WILL generate defensiveness. Always. And the hidden side effects can be awful, as I wrote with examples on a blog article about sabotage. Attack one of the sociopathic individuals (and the attack is simply what they perceive is an attack) and you will have your hands full.
Understanding strengths and weaknesses is fine, but often weaknesses are the simple overuse of strengths – people that are nit-picky are simply too detail-focused and people that are argumentative may simply be overly creative and optimistic about how things should work.
My approach on this has been direct “confrontation” focused on getting people to make a choice about what they could choose to do differently. This does not have to be a focus on negatives but merely a discussion about what needs to be improved behaviorally, and WHY it needs to be improved. People can only choose between considered alternatives, and broadening the list of possibilities is one of the requisite behaviors of good managers.
I also use discussions of Square Wheels to generate collaborative ideas about what things can be done differently. Possibilities for improvement and cognitive dissonance about what things are not working well now / possibilities for improvement.
IGNORING behavioral issues is the worst choice. Focusing on weaknesses is not the solution. Generating better choices will have more positive outcomes, even driving peer support for change(s).
Thanks Dr. Scott. I’m thankful for you and your insights. We share a passion to focus on what needs to be improved from a behavioral perspective. You can’t emphasize the behavior side of this when it comes to defining problems/weaknesses.
There’s no sense bringing up something that isn’t working if you aren’t prepared to make things work better. Best
Absolutely. Ignoring does nothing to fix things and actually makes things worse if other people are watching. (Did I really say, “IF” at the end of that sentence?)
Courage. But also understanding. Doing “Godzilla Meets Bambi” is always one possible choice a manager has. But all that does is VENT, and it does nothing to generate improvement.
I wrote this blog up about sabotage a couple of years ago. I should update it. There are a LOT of new data supporting the issues, especially around engagement and things:
Just had to say that I love the Godzilla meets Bambi metaphor. 🙂
Poor David and Goliath (not really) lost out to Bambi and Godzilla, what a comparison! Excellent! Terrific viewpoints!
I did a video about “Godzilla Meets Bambi” that focuses on the issues and impacts on innovation and creativity and that stuff. It IS a useful metaphor, so I illustrated this with my cartoons. Take a look: http://www.performancemanagementcompany.com/godzilla-meets-bambi/
Another great message for all to Consider – as we’ve all come to expect!!! The ‘WEAKNESS AXIOM” is so incredibly important for each of us to consider, one I’ll be Considering and referring to for sure.
The five responses to “What are you willing to do about your complaints?” are all so important! But the key one, the one that I’d suggest is most often overlooked is #3: ‘Minimize. How might you minimize a weakness?’ I’d argue the only way – most likely – to eradicate a MEANINGFUL/SIGNIFICANT weakness is to disengage!!! And that’s not eradicating anything. Deal with the weakness, seeking to reduce its impact, minimize it. Who knows, maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones that sees it eradicated – EVENTULALLY!!!
Thanks John. It’s so powerful to accept weaknesses in our teammates. As I read your comment I started thinking about authentic relationships. Wise leaders keep team mates doing the things they love to do and protect them, as much as possible, from doing things they don’t do well.
Thanks for giving us your time and insights. Best
Wonderful conversation. The most successful people I’ve met 1) want to make impact 2) want to be challenged by new things 3) want to connect with others and have real relationships. It’s in their own interest to look at their weaknesses and decide whether it’s holding them back from making the maximum impact. As well, exploring weaknesses in a constructive, non-judgmental way increases vulnerability and connection. But you sure need to have some facilitation skills to pull off such a discussion, with some strong groundrules!
Thanks Dave. You really captured so many important ideas. Not the least of which is about relationships. Vibrant relationships include vulnerability. Exposing weaknesses is one aspect of this powerful quality. I hope you’ll come back again to share your insights on other posts.
There seems to be a belief that a weakness can be improved upon and we spend a lot of time focusing on improving weaknesses. Sometimes a weakness, for whatever reason is outside the person’s ability to change and if it is a major component of their job, it may result in not being able to do the job and the best you can do is help them find a position that is a better fit for their strengths.
Thanks Rosalie. You are right on the mark. We shouldn’t be distracted from our strengths because of our weaknesses. That doesn’t mean we should ignore our weaknesses.
It’s freeing to know both our strengths and weaknesses.
I’m thankful you shared your insights. Best
Indeed. Some weaknesses are beyond our ability to change. But I suspect that more often than not those are not weaknesses per se, but are “contextual” – that is, they are demands placed on us by the position for which we are ill-suited. For me that would be “attention to detail” because I (like another commenter) am driven absolutely insane by lots of details.
But there are certain measures we can take in order to compensate in one degree or another for these weaknesses. For example, when I’m leading a group through a major change initiative, I have a comprehensive project map that lists the details (objectives, assignments, due dates, needed resources etc) that I consult at least once a week, just to make sure I’m not overlooking an important detail.
Other changes may be more in the vein of emotional intelligence. A person in a position of leadership who tends to be more of the “suggest” rather than “tell” communication style can learn how to be more direct, exercising a higher degree of competence in verbal dominance.
SO the question then becomes, “Is this serious enough a misfit between the demands of my position and my personal foibles that the best course of action for the team and for me is to take a different position? Or can I develop some tools and behaviors that will help me through this and keep the team from falling prey to my weaknesses?”
Thanks bud. I’m thankful you jumped in on this. Your insights on context are so helpful. I respect your participation.
Excellent point and some great additions in the ensuing conversation. All power to our weakest link!
I agree we should acknowledge and not hide from weaknesses (while not using them as a crutch). Also if as managers all you focus on is what someone can’t do, then that’s what you’ll get – nothing.
Personally my weaknesses have morphed as I’ve aged, keep me away from trivia, bs, and book-keeping.
Thanks Richard. I love that you added, “Not using them as a crutch.” The “I’m just not good at….” response to weakness drives me crazy. Do something about it, if it matters. Or, as you say, keep away from that stuff.
I’m not sure that being weak at bs is a weakness. 🙂
Thanks for this, Dan.
I’ve found (in my own life and in the lives of those with whom I’ve been privileged to mentor) that the challenge in accepting and dealing with our weaknesses is related to where we find our self-worth. Those who rely too much on their accomplishments (or the esteem of others) as the primary source of self-worth find this very challenging. Those who base their self-worth on some other, more transcendent value will still feel the pain, but they’ll be able to lean into it. (For example, those who find their worth in the fact that they are made in God’s image and redeemed by him at an incalculable value will find the process of confronting their weaknesses a bit easier).
Once we acknowledge our weaknesses it is, I think, a good idea to work with a mentor to determine which of our weaknesses are hurting the team. Then begin a process of personal and professional development to ameliorate the negative effect they may have on team performance.
Thanks Bud. Bringing mentoring into this conversation opens another important dimension to weaknesses. We may not see the damage our weaknesses are producing. That’s where a set of outside eyes is useful. Wonderful contribution.
The same is very true with secrets. Secrets, like weaknesses, can be debilitating….until they’re known and are no longer secret! When weaknesses are known and appreciated, others can come alongside and lend their strengths. In the church we call this community.
Thanks Pete. “Others can come alongside,” wouldn’t we all love to be on teams where our strengths are celebrated and maximized and our weaknesses are opportunities for others to shine? Thank you for extending the conversation.
Great post, especially for those already in leadership. The only addition I can make is that the underlying assumption seems to be that the team leader is the one driving the conversation to identify the weaknesses/call them out.
A more collaborative approach might be to see what each member of the team identifies for themselves, and determine if it is something they can or wish to address, and what support they need to either learn or what change in responsibilities might work. That’s an approach that isn’t apt in all situations, but it has an advantage of coaching rather than just labeling. We all have blind spots, so having an “other” identify weaknesses is good. At the same time we should be encouraging self-reflection as a growth opportunity.
That said, some people will never or rarely see any weaknesses ins themselves, and that’s when true leadership is needed to guide that person into the least harmful position for the company/group. (Certain political personalities of the day come to mind..:) )