Updated: Feb 17, 2021
Obviously the ultimate goal and sensible wisdom are to always focus on your natural talents and increasing their impact as strengths. You cannot and should not ignore your weaknesses. Your weaknesses are those activities filled with the type of thinking, emotions or behaviours, which naturally drains you – very much the same as "kryptonite" steals the energy from Superman.
Ignoring these detriments will never be the answer to excelling in your Strengths. But, you also cannot afford to spend too much time and energy on managing those weaknesses, as the logical result won’t be Strengths-based excellence and results.
Furthermore, weakness is not the only problem when it comes to flowing in your talents. I found that “strengths running wild” can cause a lot more damage and detriment than passive weaknesses. When it comes to your talents, you cannot “switch them off” – and you should never attempt to, as you will fail. But, each strength has a volume knob. You can turn the specific strength-volume up or down as needed. At times a specific strength (or a combination) may need to be on full blast. In other situations, you need to turn it down to maybe become hardly audible….or simply a soft background tune. We call this “managing your talents well”, and it is the absolute key to a strengths-based life or career.
I adopted a “Four S” approach as a tool to advise someone stuck within their weaknesses, or just as possible, stuck in a position for which they simply do not have the right mix of natural talent to sustainably support them from inside. These Four “S’s” form a very practical and simple way to limit the detriment caused by either weaknesses or by mismanaged talents.
First “S” – Stop doing it.
You will often hear about high-risk moves and sacrifices people made in order to achieve a strengths-filled life. And very often it was to say "no", walk away or - yes - to even resign. Because I have done some of this myself more than once in my life and career, I am not ignorant about the risk, the consequences and the implication. Therefore this decision should be considered very carefully.
On the other hand, I am also convinced that the word and negative label “quitting” is very unfortunate. Quitting is not per definition foolish, bad or failure. It is the timing and reason behind quitting that makes is foolish or wise, good or bad or a success or a failure. Contrary to conventional opinion, I do not believe in the "never quit" slogan. Wisdom is to know when to quit, and when not to. I believe you can “quit wisely.” And please remember – quitting is not always as radical as you are made to believe. You can, for instance, quit within your job, relationship or venture without quitting the job, relationship or venture. Think about this…. Quitting does not always imply finality.
So do not let yourself (or someone else) get off too easy when you consider simply stopping going down the road you are on. You may even be surprised at the reaction of others if you decide to stop going down the road you are on. Some won’t even notice. Others will praise you for doing it (and may even be relieved!) Yes, you will also be criticized – but honestly, that will be the case even when you carry on also, as you know that you are already not performing on that road.
Second “S” – Skill can pull you through.
Talent is not the same as skill. You can acquire skill in an area for which you have simply no talent – and thus also no appetite. That is why you get people who are excellent in what they do, but who simultaneously hate what they do.
The ultimate aim in life is to acquire the type of skills that will align with your talents, thus turning it into strengths. But skill can also be the key to help you get out of weakness traps or “detriment spirals”. If you identify specific skills to make up for lack of talent, you can really overcome tricky situations and reach goals – without sacrificing your strengths focus in the process.
For instance, if you are lacking executing talents supporting you in natural goal-setting and time-management (like Achiever, Arranger, Focus or Discipline to name a few) you may consider investing in some skills when it comes to time-management, planning and goal setting. All of these qualities can be enhanced with skills, and there are plentiful books, people and organizations available that specialize in teaching these skills.
It is interesting how quick people are to respond to this advice with a “that’s simply not possible”. Agreed, sometimes it won’t be possible to get out of a job, out of a relationship or out of a detrimental situation. But on the other hand, if you ask any person who successfully build on their strengths and limit the impact of their weaknesses, they will tell you about high risk moves and sacrifices they made in order to achieve a strengths-filled life. And very often it was to say "no", walk away or - yes - to even resign. Because I have done some of this myself more than once in my life and career, I am not ignorant about the risk, the consequences and the implication. Therefore this decision should be considered very carefully.
Please understand me clearly: I do not with this advice suggest that you can or should do anything by simply acquiring the skill. I firmly believe that success in life is not about the attitude “I can do anything I set my mind to” (even if there is some truth to it), but rather about “I should do very specific things that I am naturally talented to do”. If you do not have an appetite or natural sense to, for instance, do time management well and with high energy and persistence, you will also find it a stretch and pretty difficult to acquire the skill to do it. But you still can. And it can help you a lot.
Third “S” – Support is crucial to win.
Having the skills will never turn those activities into high-energy flow areas for you, but it can help you get to a level where it is no longer such a detriment that it becomes an obstacle in your career, relationships or personal goals. It may even save you from some very embarrassing moments.
There are nearly always people close to you – colleagues, friends, family or partners – who are naturally strong where you are weak. There are those energized by execution of tasks and finishing it in time, even if that is like “kryptonite”, or a blind-spot to you. Your colleague may thrive in relational interaction even if you do not. Your partner may be a natural strategic thinker, great with ideas or analytically brilliant, even if that area is a complete minefield to you. There are those around you who can influence people in a way that will astonish you, and you may desperately need them at your side.
I followed with interest over my years as a Strength Coach the way people naturally and mostly unknowingly “tap” into the natural talents of those around them. As humans we are mostly drawn to those who are strong in areas where we are weak….(maybe that is exactly why opposites attract, right?). Thus you will find that you were maybe already seeking out support from others who are strong in areas of your weakness. But even if this is the case, you will raise the bar of energy and excellence for them and you if you do it with more intention. If you approach them with confidence, which may reveal your vulnerability, but at the same time celebrate their strengths.
That brings me to the most important part of seeking support in your weakness: being vulnerable. Brene Brown (www.brenebrown.com) brought the importance of vulnerability to light with her books (especially “Daring Greatly”, and talks. One of her powerful quotes: “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
What is the best way to be vulnerable, getting support you need?
I have one word: “Ask.”
Fourth “S” – Situational talent application is wise.
Use your talents wisely. Talent that aligns with the activity, situation or challenge becomes real Strengths. For talent to be strength it needs to flow within the situation of challenge for which it was made.
Managing your talents – both the strengths and weaknesses, means managing the situation. Managing the situation comes down to the choices you make: to engage or disengage, to offer your help or to say no when asked, to simply push through with grid or to quit wisely. We often do not see the way we choose the situation we find ourselves in. How often do I here the comment “But I have / had no choice…” In almost all instances that turns out as a lie. You always have some choice – if it is not directed towards creating circumstance, it definitely is towards reacting to circumstance. Knowing the best situations where your talents can play and flow will guide your choices towards playing to your strengths – and embracing your weaknesses as vulnerability not to be ashamed of.
People often only realize their limitations when they are already in a situation. We call that “learning”. How else will you know where your strengths fade and your weakness starts? If you do not learn from it, you are a fool. Next time, that same learning leads to wise situational decisions.
There are nearly always people close to you – colleagues, friends, family or partners – who are naturally strong where you are weak. There are those energized by the execution of tasks and finishing it in time, even if that is like “kryptonite”, or a blind-spot to you. Your colleague may thrive in relational interaction even if you do not. Your partner may be a natural strategic thinker, great with ideas or analytically brilliant, even if that area is a complete minefield to you. There are those around you who can influence people in a way that will astonish you, and you may desperately need them at your side.bility, but at the same time celebrate their strengths.es towards playing to your strengths – and embracing your weaknesses as vulnerability not to be ashamed of.
I found that the "Four S" approach is a practical way to accomplish this, or to guide others.
For more on this and other related subjects, go check out my new book, "Launch your Brilliance"