Why You Should Understand Your Weaknesses

Do you know your weaknesses as well as your strengths? Early in my career, I thought I had to be good at everything. It didn’t help that I had a boss who seemed to be great at everything. This challenged me to work on my own “areas of opportunity.”

Man Who Is Frustrated at Work - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Cardston, Image #11728503

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Cardston

According to bestselling author Marcus Buckingham, in his book Now, Discover Your Strengths, most organizations are built on two flawed assumptions about people:

  1. Each person can learn to be competent in most anything;
  2. Each person’s greatest room for growth is in his or her areas of greatest weakness.
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Not true. You can’t be good at everything. In fact, you can only be great at a few things. The sooner I realized this, the more quickly I could focus on my strengths and steer clear of my weaknesses.

Buckingham argues that knowing your strengths is vital to being more productive and happier. But I would argue that knowing your weaknesses is just as important. Why?

  • It keeps you from engaging in activities where you can’t make much impact.
  • It provides an opportunity for others—people with the very strengths you’re missing— to contribute. This strengthens your team.
  • It keeps you from frustrating yourself and others.

Keep in mind, that a strength is not simply something you are good at. It is also something that makes you feel strong. To quote Eric Liddell, from the movie Chariots of Fire expresses this beautifully: “I believe that God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. When I run, I feel His pleasure.”

But the definition of a weakness is similar. You may well be good at an activity—or good enough—but it doesn’t make you feel strong, in fact, you feel weak.

Over the years, I have identified four weaknesses of my own. I don’t share these to focus on myself, but to provide inspiration for you to begin to identify your own weaknesses, so you can steer more of your time toward your strengths.

  • Routine, maintenance-type work. I’m a starter, not a maintainer. Once the project is launched, I’m read to move on to the next thing.
  • Detailed, logistical planning. Things always seem easier to me than they really are. This is especially true when it comes to my calendar. Left to myself, I will double-book appointments and wear myself out by trying to do too much.
  • Long meetings of any kind. I can focus intently for about two hours. Max. Then my attention begins to wander. I have to move on to something else or I actually become a distraction.
  • Multi-tasking. I work fast and move from task-to-task. From the outside, it may look like multi-tasking, but it’s not. I do my best work when I can focus intently on one task at a time. If I try too many things at once, I get frustrated and lose focus.

You won’t always be able to avoid acting in your areas of weakness. This is especially true early in your career when you don’t have much of a team. But to the extent you can build your team and increasingly focus on what you do best—and avoid what you do worst—the greater your impact and satisfaction at work and in life.

Question: Why are your weaknesses?
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  • Benjamin Neeley

    Excellent Post. I especially think this is important for pastors, who are sometimes asked to be great at everything by their job descriptions.

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  • Ed Burgos

    Michael, Great advice to get my Wednesday morning going. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://theperkinsblog.net MichaelDPerkins

    My biggest weakness is the "middle." I'm good at seeing the beginning and the end, but the details in between I have a hard time doing.

    • http://geoffreywebb.wordpress.com/ Geoff Webb

      I hear you, Michael.

      Reminds me of when I ran a marathon a few years back; the ends were relatively easy, but the middle is where the battle is. Bill Hybels shared some great insights on "the middle" at the recent Gobal Leadership Summit. Here's an overview of his thoughts: http://geoffreywebb.wordpress.com/2010/08/10/3-th

    • Michael Hyatt

      That is a great insight. I am not big on the middle either. Of course, as I wrote a few weeks ago, that is usually where the important stuff happens!

      • http://theperkinsblog.net MichaelDPerkins

        You are right.

        My wife is good at the middle stuff and has been pushing me lately. Love that about her.

    • http://www.bigb94.webs.com Brandon

      True…

  • http://www.allhandsondeckbook.com Joe Tye

    Shortly after I was fired from my last real job (I am a recovering hospital administrator!) i was diagnosed with RBADD (really bad :-). My weaknesses (boring meetings, medical staff politics, endless social events) were exactly where strengths were required. Now I do work where the hunter ethic that Thom Hartmann ascribes to us RBADDers is a strength and I minimize activities where I have to rely on my weaknesses. As one example, it turns out that I'm really not a very good listener – and now as a public speaker I have a job where I get to do all the talking :-).

    • Michael Hyatt

      Perfect! I suffer from some of this, too.

  • Randy Elrod

    Great post, Mike. It was well into my career when I first heard this principle and began to hire staff to shore up my weaknesses.

    Thanks for this reminder to focus on my strengths and understand that even though I may be good at something, if I still feel weak, it may not be a core strength.

  • Andy Janning

    Well said! I was encouraged by your list of weaknesses, as it matches quite well with mine. I'm sure family, friends, and staff could easily name many, many more!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes, that's a great exercise: to ask your family or your team to identify your weaknesses. The advantage is that they can help you stay focused on your strengths.

  • ronedmondson

    We share the same weaknesses. The only difference is I'm still trying to fool myself on the multi-tasking part.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I’ve just recently become “sober” on that one. I always wondered why I felt so frustrated and irritable when I am trying to do too many things at once.

  • http://geoffreywebb.wordpress.com/ Geoff Webb

    Great post! Another reason not to lose sight of your weaknesses is that there are some "areas of opportunity" that you have to have a certain level of competence in. For example, a leader can't just ignore or outsource a severe weakness in communication, humility or interpersonal skills. I think you've got to get some things up to a basic level.

    Okay, my weaknesses:

    1. Details. I can see the big picture clear as a bell, but unless I get some help, it takes me forever to see the details – and even then I miss stuff!

    2. Loyalty. This is an example of a strength that can become a weakness for me. I hate to give up on anything. This is great when I'm dealing with people, but tragic when I'm dealing with poor ideas, projects, or brands.

    3. Distraction. I can lose my self in an endeavor, but only after I build up enough "focus momentum." Until then, I'm chasing squirrels all over the place.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I agree: it is sometimes challenging to know whether you can shore up a a weakness or need to abandon it altogether.

  • Robert Wolgemuth

    Michael:
    What a terrific post. Thank you for it. (And great photo of the guy!)
    In your first paragraph, you wrote: "It didn’t help that I had a boss who seemed to be great at everything." There's absolutely no question that your ascending age has kidnapped some of your heretofore crisp recall. Maybe this selective memory loss should also be included among your weaknesses?
    You're the best. The very best.

    • Michael Hyatt

      You totally spoiled me from an early age. You are the gold standard in bosses. I hope your nephews know how very blessed they are to work for you!

  • Rose Publishing

    Good post, Mike. I love Marcus Buckingham's writings, especially on this topic. I agree with your conclusions and would add one more: Knowing your weaknesses keeps you humble, human, and makes your company run better. People enjoy working for a servant-hearted leader who values the role they play in the filling in those gaps.

    • http://modernservantleader.com/ Ben Lichtenwalner

      Well put Rose, I agree. Workplace culture is shifting rapidly, as more people refuse to work for narcissists, choosing instead to seek out the humble servant-leader. Thanks for sharing.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I agree with that. John Maxwell has been a great example to me on this. He is very forthright about his weaknesses. As a result, he attracts people who compensate and keep him focused on his strengths. It is a very compelling model.

  • http://www.moonboatcafe.com Cassandra Frear

    What a great discussions starter this post is! I wish we had an hour.

    What you are saying is very true. When we can, we should work through our strengths and gifts and delegate the rest.

    However, there is another side to it. Throughout my life, I have been clearly placed where I was forced to operate in an area of weakness! This made me groan. (I love efficiency and productivity, not the opposite) I couldn't see anything good in it. But God was shaping me. Only later, could I begin to understand what he was doing.

    I learned to boast in my weaknesses so that Christ may be lifted up. It has been very humbling. But even more, the opportunity to see with my own eyes how God does a work through my weakness that He could not have done where I am strong has been a revelation.

    ————————————————–

    But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

    For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (1 Cor. 12)

    • http://www.concretejunglemarketing.com Kim Cook

      I agree, Cassandra! When I ready Michael's article, I found myself conflicted about what my weaknesses are, not because I have a hard time seeing them, but because I have been in so many situations that required me to work on them. For example, I am a "big picture" kind of person. But when I began my career in IT sales, I started in the proposal department. This required a huge amount of detail work, and I eventually increased my discipline in this area. Now, even though I prefer the big picture, I am able to be very tactical when called upon. (It also helped me learn to write well at a fast pace.)

      I think the key here is what you stated above. We should learn to delegate the things that are not our core strengths. This will keep us happy and allow others to do what they do best as well.

      Also, I think it is important to say that if you are in a situation that is putting a spotlight on a weakness, give yourself to that process. It will even out your skill set and personality, benefiting you greatly in the long run. I am reminded of LaHaye's ground breaking book, "The Spirit Controlled Temperment", In this book, he described four types of personalities and the strengths and weaknesses that go with them. Without a doubt, this book has been invaluable to me, both professionally and personally. God has given each of us our personalities for a reason, and the effective use of our strengths brings him glory, in the workplace and in "real" life.

      • Michael Hyatt

        Great points from both of you. I don’t doubt the value of shoring up your weakness when you must. Sometimes you don’t have a choice. And in those situations, God’s grace is indeed sufficient.

    • http://modernservantleader.com/ Ben Lichtenwalner

      Well put Cassandra. Perhaps when we are "forced" into working with in an area of weakness we must discern His intent for the experience and the role we are to play for His glory. Thank you for sharing.

  • adthroop

    Hey Michael,
    This is great content. You are right, we can't be good at everything. Having weaknesses is human and it's ok to not be the best at everything! One way I have found to discover my weaknesses or blind spots is through 360 degree feedback. Feedback must be anonymous for it be honest. Try something like Rypple http://rypple.com to discover your blind spots and learn ways to improve!

    • Michael Hyatt

      This looks like a great resource. Thanks for sharing it. I have used 360° reports in the past with great results.

  • http://www.giantperspectives.com Jeremie Kubicek

    Mike, I concur wholeheartedly. The pursuit of our strengths makes us feel great. However, we all know that our greatest strengths conversely becomes part of our weakness. Therefore, over fixation with strengths without consideration of blindspots or base weakness is dangerous. I see it everyday.

    Also, when I recognize my weakness of communicating the plethora of ideas or my weakness of taking certain comments from certain people too personally then I help everyone, including myself. When I am weak and know it, then I am strong because I have guarded an achilles heal. Appreciate you.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Jeremie. Good comment.

  • http://anthonyharden.wordpress.com/ Anthony

    I am very comfortable with what I do professionally. Being an irritable short-tempered untreated bipolar with anger management problems and a complete inability to multitask has made me an excellent pathologist. Few people can achieve, much less sustain, my level of concentration. Problems arise when I allow myself to be pressed into leadership positions, at church but more so out in the community, where my single-focus “lead, follow or get out of the way” ethic is not always appreciated. The projects I take on always succeed but frequently at a higher personal cost than I want to pay. I know my weaknesses. How do I communicate them to others? (A little sarcasm here but I couldn’t resist.)

  • http://www.affiliatemarketingcoursesreviewed.com Timothy

    My weaknesses are as follows:

    -Over-analyzing problems/situations every day
    -Making decisions quickly

    • Michael Hyatt

      I make decisions quickly, too, and sometimes I can be impulsive. That’s where my team saves us all from me!

  • jonwellman

    Knowing your strengths is especially important in ministry, because the things I cannot do well are things that others CAN do well. The trick is to empower and equip others and encourage them to partner in Kingdom work.

    Andy Stanley says that, in the church world, we should strive to only do the things that WE ALONE can do, and allow others to do the rest.
    http://jonwellman.wordpress.com – Not a Camouflaged Soul

    • Michael Hyatt

      Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators, said that he ordered his life on this principle: “Don’t do anything that others can or will do, when there is so much of importance to be done that others cannot or will not do.”

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  • http://theincarnate.blogspot.com Matt Stephens

    Larry Osborne gives the same advice in Sticky Teams, which I'm currently in the midst of reading. Don't get so hung up on fixing your weaknesses as an organization; reinforce and capitalize on your strengths. I think this only goes so far (there are some crippling weaknesses), but where it's true, it's very true.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes, it works the same way in organizations. We naturally gravitate to the areas that are under-performing, applying our limited resources of time and attention. But we have to ask, what if we applied those same resources to the areas that are doing well?

  • http://www.facebook.com/TimothyFish Timothy Fish

    Often, what comes across as a weakness in one area of our life as the same root cause as a strengths in another area. For example, one of my strengths is that I'm a great listener and I rarely say anything without having thought it through, but on the opposite side of that, I forget to talk to people or take so long thinking about how I want to say something that it no longer matters. Though I might want to improve upon the weakness, to do so would be at the expense of the strength.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Very, very good point.

  • Scott Macdonald

    Mike, good stuff. There are some great resources around Buckingham's books as well that can help employees and their managers maximize their strengths.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes, we have used his resources extensively at Thomas Nelson. We are also now Marcus’ publisher, which also motivates us! ;-)

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    My list is very similar to yours with the addition of tedious tasks with lots of guess work.. (as in almost any state or government program or form). I keep telling them that I'm not a mind reader, but it doesn't seem to help! ;-)

  • http://thatguykc.wordpress.com ThatGuyKC

    Multitasking is definitely a weakness of mine. I'm easily distracted and sometimes not sure whether having dual monitors setup helps with productivity or not.

    Thanks for sharing why it's important to be aware of weaknesses as well as strengths.

    Read a book recently that said, "Know what you are. Know what you're not."

    • Michael Hyatt

      I really like that quote. Excellent!

  • http://twitter.com/OCAgrad2008 @OCAgrad2008

    Mr Hyatt:____I just wanted to thank you for you posts. They are very insightful. A couple days I read you blog about writing blogs. You said to limit the focus of your blog to three areas. Now I am a college student and I have thought about starting a blog, and I was wonding is "Religion" too broad of a topic to focus my blog on? I would value your answer. Thanks for your time.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I think that is too broad. I would work on narrowing it down. Thanks.

  • Dewitt

    Thanks for the transparency of the post. I can see also the benefits of focusing like a laser on your strengths.

  • http://blog.jackswebpage.com Jack Collins

    One of my weaknesses is details. I have to write everything down about a project and don't recall details well without referring to my notes. Plus, if it is somebody else's tasks, I don't even care to know about the details, but trust that they are tracking what they need to. I do think that this frustrates my boss sometimes, who is one of those "seems good at everything" good guys. Thank you for the post! jack

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  • edmusesupon

    I thought this an excellent discussion of the merits of self-awareness. Well said!

  • Charlene

    Great post!!!

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  • Lindsay

    I shared this post on FB and got the following comment from a friend… " One of my strengths seems to be document review. In his article, he states he has identified 3 of his weaknesses, but he actually lists 4 of them. I guess his 5th weakness is math? :)"… LOL

    • Michael Hyatt

      No, my fifth weakness is catching my own typos!

  • http://www.marcmillan.com Marc Millan

    LOVE this post. Just finished taking Strength Finders 2.0 so your talking my language. Love what you captured here in regards to knowing your weaknesses:
    It provides an opportunity for others—people with the very strengths you’re missing— to contribute. This strengthens your team.
    It keeps you from frustrating yourself and others.
    I'd also add, it can easily burn you out!!
    M_

  • Tom Hood

    Great post! I read Marcus Buckingham's first book and I completely agree that both businesses and individuals should focus most on building up and using their strengths.

    I am a big fan of Tom Rath's latest book, Strength-Based Leadership which takes the Gallup-Clifton research a step further to apply to leadership and teams. Tom uses the same 34 strengths and applies them to the four domains of leadership – Executing – Influencing – Relationship Building – Strategic. Great tool for understanding your strengths and weaknesses or lowest strengths.

    How did you identify your weaknesses?

  • http://www.facebook.com/jimseybert Jim Seybert

    I love it when successful people talk about activities that weaken them. We have this notion that some people are just good at everything – and it just ain't true. Fact is, the most successful among us are those who have learned to focus on the things that strengthen them – and by concentrating on those activities, they get better and better.

    I've had the extreme privilege of working with Marcus Buckingham and his team at TMBC on development of Strengths Essentials, his latest training curriculum and would highly recommend it for any business or organization manager looking to add a "next level" of accountability and application beyond simply knowing their individual strength themes.

    One of the complaints about StrengthsFinder is that without some sort of coaching or personal motivation, the themes are merely labels you wear with little regard for putting them to work. The Strengths Essentials training from Marcus adds that critical element and turns strengths into performance.

    Thanks Mike for taking the step and sharing your story. I'm sure it will be very helpful.

  • Bridget

    I have found that most individuals weaknesses are their "strengths overused". A strength may be that you may be analytical, but the weakness happens when the analysis becomes paralysis. A strength may be that you are very flexible, but when you are too flexible you can lack focus and become disorganized. If you are struggling with discovering your weakness – try to think of your strengths and what happens when they become extreme.

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  • http://budurl.com/jhcj Kirstine Vergara

    Because it's the only way you'll know what you're really capable of. Weakness can define a person as strength grows out of weakness. With this, you willKnow What You're Really Worth.

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  • Moblizer4him

    Thank you for this response to Buckingham's eloquent theory. I can't really find much basis for the theory in scripture (been looking at "weakness" and "gifts"), although we are encouraged to seek after certain spiritual gifts, "especially those that build up the church" I Cor. 14:12. Thanks, also, for pointing out the reality that we may not be able to be placed in a position which leverages our strengths, at least immediately. (I've been attempting this within my own organization for almost a year.) But knowing my weaknesses have helped me to find assistance in these areas.

  • http://twitter.com/2020VisionBook Joshua Hood

    I am with you Mike. I have a hard time with details and planning in an organized fashion. It is SO vital to understand, not just OUR weaknesses, but the weaknesses of those we lead. As the Bible says “Dwell together according to knowledge”. Great post.

    Joshua Hood
    2020visiononline.org

  • Anonymous

    Wonderful post, Michael. As a young leader, I am realizing this in every aspect of my life – professional and personal. I’ve taken the Strengths Finder, someone should publish a Weakness Finder. :)

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I know. I keep meaning to take the full test, where you get the full panel of results, including your five weaknesses. Last I checked, it was pretty expensive.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for reposting, Michael. Self awareness is crucial, pertaining both to strengths and weaknesses. Leadership is all about influencing outcomes through others, and without knowledge of where you contribute with greatest power and engagement, efficacy is stunted. Those who are aware of their areas of deficiency, and collaborate strategically with others in order to offload or mitigate these shortcomings not only achieve greater success, but share opportunities for others to contribute in their area of giftedness…..the ultimate win-win!!

  • http://www.convenientcalendar.com Shared Address Book

    I have learned that knowing my weaknesses is a good thing than I can delegate it out to others that may be a strong point! I believe we all have weaknesses because it is a tool that makes us need others and can appreciate others for their strengths that could be your weakness!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1559836943 Benton Barby

    Great advice, Michael.  Seems the areas you disclosed as weaknesses mirror my own.  Thanks for articulating them so succinctly.  With the understanding that we can’t always avoid these areas of weakness, the question becomes, “How do I utilize my strengths in these areas of weakness, when they are a necessary part of the job?”  Any advice?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I think our choices are either to re-engineer our jobs or ask for help. We may not be able to eliminate these areas of weakness, but, with a little planning, we can minimize the time we spend on them.

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  • Emma Tameside

    I
    couldn’t agree with this article more. I paid greatly when I first
    started my business because I wouldn’t admit my weaknesses. It took
    some failure and time for me to admit that I didn’t excel in innovation
    management

    and I decided to get professional help, reluctantly of course. It
    was only after I seen the results of hiring the professional that I
    realized what a great decision I’d actually made.

    Pride
    tends to be something that gets in the way of business, trust me on
    this one, let it go!

  • Lowe Sunny

    Great post. I think your ideas of strengths and weaknesses are being cross pollinated with the idea of what your quantity or capacity in any one area is. It is a multi-vector process, and there is a lot of work on this currently. This 2 part vector is “Raw Strengths and weaknesses” tied to “individual capacities”.
    A person can be brilliant, with limited capacity for extended thinking. A person can also be limited in abilities, but what abilities they have are bundled with immense capacity in the area. This is where we find mentally limited individuals, with great capacity, who become great salesmen, or actors or writers. They are able to persevere where others would fail.
    Each of us has experienced this. We love gardening, but our job uses up all our “outdoors capacity” so we cannot do it any more, or we are great at writing, but cannot do it for ever.
    Our greatest strengths are where our strength and capacity combine, but the rest of our strengths still exist. Our weaknesses, however are not so much weaknesses, as the opposite of the spectrum. (See Kathryn Kolbe) A person who is high in her QuickStart Capacity would be great as a diagnostician, able to think of a hundred alternatives and weed through them to the answer. A person who is Low in QuickStart is actually the kind of person who must understand a plan well to begin it. This latter person is great for doing very large engineering projects like Bridges or subways. These plans take much longer to complete, and if you get a wild idea, may not get completed at all. It takes a plan to make a bridge meet in the middle, and the willingness to work it through from beginning to end.