Know your kryptonite

We spend so much time focused on and promoting success that sometimes we usually look past glaring deficiencies that are waiting to sabotage even the most robust success strategy. While there are as many schemes for success as there are stars in the sky on a cloudless night, papering over our liabilities will surely sidetrack our best-laid plans moving forward.

For this post, I’m going to diverge from the “three steps to success” model that’s all the rage—at least for today. Today, we’re going to focus on weakness.

All of us have areas that are not our strong suits. Because we’re continually told to “minimize our weaknesses” and “accentuate our strengths,” we rarely spend time focused on the things that we’re not good at. Or worse, we spend an inordinate amount of time compensating for, or attempting to bring our weaknesses up to where they’re no longer a liability. Sometimes we rely on the old “smoke and mirrors” routine thinking that no one else notices that we’re lousy at what we’re doing. Actually, people do notice.

What do you suck at? I know—string theory—exactly what I thought. But I know you make a killer cup of coffee, so not a problem.

For small organizations and smaller companies, this is especially conspicuous. What is your organizational deal breaker? What is it that if your entire 2013 strategy for success depended on you being good at this one thing, you’d be SOL? Is it technology? I know on the nonprofit side of things, technological savvy is lacking in many organizations. Are you effectively utilizing social media? Why do you still not have a Facebook page or a presence on Twitter? If I had to offer an answer, I’d say that most directors have no clue on what social media even is.

Weakness isn’t restricted only to the public sector, either. Many companies are scuffling along because their president or CEO is stuck in a 20th century paradigm and it’s been ages since an honest, objective assessment’s been done about what their firm isn’t very good at.

On the other hand, some companies are all over using what others see as a weakness to their advantage.

A few weeks ago, I toured one of the primary distribution hubs of a large American corporation. This employer is renowned for its diversity hiring and their model of inclusion. Rather than doing what so many companies do–plugging new hires into open positions–they found the jobs that were the best match for individuals. Instead of considering what some of their employees with disabilities can’t do, they figured out what they can do, or even going a step further, they are placing them in roles where they could excel at. It wasn’t surprising to me that his facility is their most productive and efficient center. People want to succeed and helping them do so is what this company is focused on.

Don’t you think it’s bizarre that employers hire based on a line of questioning that asks, “so tell us why you think your skills are a good match for this position?” What if employers got clear on what skills they needed (other than, must have a four-year college degree, or some other perfunctory set of requirements that everyone else cuts and pastes into job postings, but that do nothing to ensure success for the new hire) and matched the new hires’ skills with what they actually needed? That would be revolutionary!

Let’s start figuring out where our strengths lie. But before doing that, figure out what areas are holding you back and determine if you can improve measurably in these areas. If not, figure out how to create a “work-around,” or leverage the abilities and strengths of someone else—a partner, a co-worker, or even a friend. Even better—find a free agent that has what you don’t and bring them on-board to help you plug your current talent gap. How about providing some training for your troops?

Now there’s a success strategy that could work in 2013.

One thought on “Know your kryptonite

  1. May I be a bit contrarian? A phrase I heard often in special forces was, “Reinforce success.” Whatever’s working, hit it hard. Whatever’s not working, cut it off.

    To teach this, there’s a teaching situation. You are in command of four regiments. You place one on your left flank, one on your center, one on your right flank, and one in reserve. The battle starts, and as it goes on you see that the regiment on your left flank is getting creamed, the one on the center is holding steady, but the one on the right is tearing into the enemy and driving them back. Where do you commit your reserve regiment?

    There’s probably a time for both approaches, for taking the weaknesses you can’t cut off and working hard to strengthen them, and a time for damning the weaknesses and reinforcing success. Wisdom is knowing the right time for each.

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