4 Ways to Get Real with Weaknesses so You can Hire the Best People and Maximize Strengths
Everyone who’s remarkable at something is really lousy at many things. Don’t let this stop you from attempting great things, but keep it in mind the next time you’re frustrated with teammates.
Highly technical people may be socially awkward. Leaders who deliver great results may be impatient and rude. A person who sees the big picture often struggles with day-to-day operations. So what?
Drucker tells the story of Lincoln and Grant:
“President Lincoln, when told that General Grant, his new commander-in-chief, was fond of the bottle, is reported to have said: ‘If I knew his brand, I’d send a barrel or so to some other generals.’
After a childhood on the Kentucky and Illinois frontier, Lincoln assuredly knew all about the bottle and its dangers. But of all the union generals, Grant alone had proved consistently capable of winning campaigns.
Grant’s appointment was the turning point of the Civil War. It was an effective appointment because Lincoln chose his general for his ability to win battles, not for the absence of a weakness.
Lincoln learned this the hard way, however. Before he chose Grant, he had appointed in succession three or four generals whose main qualifications were their lack of major weaknesses.” (The Effective Executive, by Peter Drucker)
4 ways to get real with strengths and weaknesses:
#1. A person who doesn’t have glaring weaknesses probably doesn’t have outstanding strengths.
#2. Protect remarkable talent from frustrated team members. Lincoln protected Grant. The better someone is at one thing, the more likely they’re a source of frustration and disappointment in other areas. Deal with this or surround yourself with mediocrity.
#3. Train teams to tolerate and compensate for each other’s weaknesses so they can maximize each other’s strengths. Practice courageous transparency and kind candor.
#4. Evaluate on strengths and results, not weakness.
How might teams get real with strengths and weaknesses?
This is such an insightful post! Regarding #3, (“Train teams to tolerate and compensate for each other’s weaknesses so they can maximize each other’s strengths. Practice courageous transparency and kind candor.”) the most successful team I ever led was a great example of this process in action. Some of my most knowledgeable and experienced people were the least articulate. My best thinkers were not always my best writers. But this group had the emotional maturity and dedication to the mission to support and encourage each other in the process of mutual compensation for our weaknesses and maximizing our strengths. By the successful end of our three year project, we were all much better -professionally and personally- for having worked together in this manner. None of us are perfect or perfectible, but we can more closely approach that standard through the process you describe.
Provocative piece, Dan. While Lincoln was clear with his intent and had tried to appoint three or four generals before Grant, the lesser beings might perceive Lincoln as partial to him. How can the leader train his / her team to fulfil #3 to overcome possibly strong perceptions of partiality towards tolerating dire weaknesses in favour of exceptional talent? A very high level of trust in the leader’s competence is a critical success factor to bring about transparency and candour among the team.
Hi Dan! Thank you for all your posts and especially this one. I saw such a marvelous example of this the other day. I was reviewing some panels of young people in my area who were in tech competition. They give a presentation about their machine as a group. One of the participants was extremely uncomfortable and clearly unable to speak for herself, but the team members repeatedly mentioned her, bringing up her role in the project and making it clear that she was a cherished member of the team. Because these are young people, it makes me so proud and hopeful. Difficulty socially, and a heck of a programmer. Her teammates choose to value and protect her. Now I will think about how to emulate those….teenagers 🙂 Cheers!
WOW! I think that this has to be my most favorite and useful post. Thank you for the time you make to post all your useful insights.
#1. A person who doesn’t have glaring weaknesses probably doesn’t have outstanding strengths. – Wow! This one resonates. Our team has worked together for a long time – I wonder if we are too good of friends to “be real” about weaknesses…interesting….
I’ve been reading these posts for a long time and this one really stood out to me. Enough that I was compelled to post a comment for the first time. The content was all very rich, but #4 succinctly says it all: Outstanding strengths that deliver results will always be invaluable to any organization. This is why we see so many flawed people in leadership positions. It’s not their glaring weaknesses that got them there.