Since we are to focus on our strengths, not weaknesses, what should we do about our weaknesses?
The answer is to neutralize them. Marcus Buckingham gives five ways to do this in his helpful resource kit The Truth About You. The resource kit covers a whole lot more than this, but here’s a quick summary of the five ways Buckingham gives to neutralize your weaknesses.
1. Just stop doing it
Some things that we think we need to be doing might not be necessary at all. Originally they may have been, but circumstances and needs have changed — and our thinking just hasn’t caught up yet.
So for some things, ask “do I need to be doing this at all?” And if in doubt, maybe stop doing it for a while and see what happens.
2. Partner up
As Buckingham puts it, “seek out someone who is strengthened by the very thing that weakens you.”
The power of partnering should not be under estimated. In one of his other books, Buckingham points to Bill Gates as example and points out that “Bill Gates’s true genius, the genius that differentiates him from the masses, lies in his ability to find just the right partner at just the right time.”
In response to those who would say “of course he can find the right partners; he’s Bill Gates,” Buckingham responds: “The causal arrow actually goes the other way. He is ‘Bill Gates’ in part because he had a genius for finding the right partners.” “Whatever your assessment of Gates, when faced with a role that repeatedly calls upon your weaknesses, you would do well to remember that effective partnering is the quiet secret of the successful.”
3. Sharpen your strengths to make your weaknesses irrelevant
This means becoming so effective in your areas of strength that your weaknesses are overwhelmed; they become a non-issue.
He gives Tom Brady as an example here. He writes:
Brady holds the ball very tightly, which makes his passes exceptionally accurate, but it also prevents him from throwing the ball as far as other quarterbacks like John Elway, Brett Favre, or Brady’s predecessor at New England, Drew Bledsoe. Rather than try to transform him into someone he wasn’t, his coaches built their game plan around a series of short passing plays that would demand, and capitalize on, Brady’s awesome accuracy. When he took over from Bledsoe as the Patriots starting quarterback, Brady threw a record 162 passes in a row without an interception.
4. Look at your weakness through one of your strengths
This means finding a way to use your strengths to do the activity that weakens you.
Buckingham gives Rudy Giuliani as one example here. As an attorney, Giuliani was very effective at arguing his cases in court. But when he became mayor of New York, he struggled giving speeches to a roomful of people behind a lectern.
He worked at it and hired a speech coach, but still struggled. Then his coach said to him: “You love arguing. So turn every speech into an argument. Come out from behind the lectern, leave your notes behind, take questions from the crowd, and then walk around where everyone can see you and make your case.”
As Buckingham points out, this worked perfectly and has been Giuliani’s style ever since. “He comes across as comfortable, powerful, authoritative; exactly what a leader should be. He took his weakness — public speaking. He looked at it from the perspective of his strength — arguing. And he neutralized it.”
“And oh, by the way, he has also gradually become better and better at doing regular public speaking. You’ll find this too. You’ll find that when you fall back on one of your strengths, it has a side effect of helping you with your weakness.
5. Suck it up and do it
Sometimes, obviously, this is just what you have to do.
But don’t go here too fast. That’s the mistake most people make — and thus they short circuit better approaches that will make them more effective for everyone.
So treat this as a last resort, and seek to minimize the time you have to spend here so that most of your time can be spent on your strengths.