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Think of the best boss you ever had. He or she probably made a pretty big impression on you. Do you remember what made that boss an exceptional leader? Perhaps he was able to communicate really well. Or maybe it was her ability to inspire through sharing a vision of the future. Or was he amazing at building consensus and collaboration within the organization? She (or he) sure was great!
But think carefully, Was that person perfect? Odds are, there were things that he wasn’t all that good at (making a decision, running a meeting, whatever) but you just shrugged them off because he was so inspiring in other ways.
Surprisingly, in order to be exceptional, you actually don’t have to be perfect. That’s the premise of the book “How to Be Exceptional” by John Zenger, Joseph Folkman, Robert Sherwin Jr. and Barbara Steel, experts in the field of leadership development.
When thinking about our careers and development as leaders, we often list our strengths and weaknesses so we can put extra effort into working on our “areas for improvement”. However, while weaknesses may hurt performance somewhat, depending on your role, they may not be all that crucial to success.
If you’re an engineering manager, then being a weak communicator is probably less of an issue than if you’re a director of marketing. One the other hand, when a weakness represents a fatal flaw that will prevent you from succeeding in your current role, no matter how great you are in other ways, it shouldn’t be ignored.
While getting better at the things we’re not so good at will contribute to improved overall performance as leaders, our efforts may be better spent improving on our strengths instead. In other words, it’s unlikely that you can ever pull up a weakness sufficiently for it to become a powerful strength. But concentrating on building on your strengths can significantly amplify your effectiveness.
So, if you’ve been frustrated at the progress of your career lately, rather than obsessing over weaknesses, do an honest check for fatal flaws that must be addressed, then concentrate on refining the competencies that contribute to your strengths. Start taking this approach and by the time you do your next performance review you just may be singing a different tune!
(* with apologies to Johnny Mercer)