Every human being is a combination of strengths and weaknesses. There is no person without strengths just as there isn’t any devoid of weaknesses. Same goes for organizations and societies. Therefore, what a person, organization or society eventually becomes is not just a function of the strengths possessed but essentially a manifestation of the interplay of both the strengths and weaknesses.
Areas of strength are those aspects where a person or an organization has comparative advantage over others. The strength may be in form of talents, skills, special abilities or specialisation. On the other hand, areas of weakness are those where an individual or organization is at a disadvantage compared to others. The weakness may come in form of a character flaw or deficiency in capacity.
Balancing both strengths and weaknesses is critical to the realization of full potential because both usually scream for attention. The tendency by most people and organizations is to pay attention to one while neglecting the other. But doing that is usually counterproductive because anyone who solely concentrates on his strengths, though he may soar, will, in all likelihood, crash later. Similarly, anyone who makes his weaknesses his focus will end up being an average performer. Remarkable and lasting success is possible only when a balance is struck between strengths and weaknesses.
Push and pull factors of success
Achieving success in any endeavour is a constant struggle between strengths and weaknesses. It is whichever of the duo that wins at any point in time that determines whether success is achieved or not. When strength trumps weakness, success is recorded but when weakness triumphs over strength, success heads south.
This is akin to the story a Cherokee told his grandson. As the tale goes, the old Cherokee was trying to teach his grandson the importance of endeavouring to make the right choices at all times.
The old man said to the boy, “A fight is going on inside me. It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
In bewilderment, the boy asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old man replied, “The one you feed.”
While this is true to an extent, it is not entirely true. While the wolf that is fed will grow well and win, the one that is ignored will grow wild and destroy the thriving one.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn excelled both in academics, where he rose to become a respected Economics Professor; and in politics, where he served his country both as a member of parliament and a minister. In July 2007, Strauss-Khan emerged the consensus European nominee for the post of Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). He was eventually selected in September by the 24 Executive Directors of the IMF to replace Rodrigo Rato, whose tenure was about to expire.
As early as 2008, there were allegations that the IMF Managing Director had an affair with a married subordinate, Piroska Nagy, who alleged that she was coerced into the relationship. This forced the IMF board to appoint an investigator to look into the matter. The IMF board later cleared Strauss-Kahn of abuse of power but noted that the affair was “regrettable and reflected a serious error of judgment on the part of the managing director.” Strauss-Kahn issued a public apology for the affair.
But the Managing Director was not done yet. In 2011, when he had become a leading candidate for the 2012 French presidential election, Strauss-Kahn was arrested by the police when he was about to board a plane following the allegation by a New York hotel maid, Nafissatou Diallo, that the IMF boss had assaulted her in a bid to rape her. He was subsequently charged to court. Four days after his arrest, he voluntarily resigned his post at the IMF. Although the charges leveled against him were eventually dismissed, Strauss-Kahn admitted that the relationship between him and the maid was ‘inappropriate’.
For the ‘inappropriate’ relationship with the maid, Strauss-Khan lost the headship of IMF and the chance to become his country’s president. What a price to pay for a moment of indiscretion.
Strauss-Kahn fed the good wolf (his strengths) and this resulted in his rise in the academics, politics and international finance but he ignored the bad wolf (his weaknesses). The bad wolf grew wild with time and became his albatross. It destroyed both his career and reputation.
Optimising your strength
There is nothing so good that it cannot be made better. Therefore, optimizing strengths requires positioning strengths for growth. To optimize your strength, do the following:
Develop your strength
An undeveloped strength produces limited returns. Strengths are like a farmland, unless it is probably managed and well cultivated, it does not bring maximum benefits. Although strengths confer a natural advantage, the edge may end up counting for little or nothing unless there is a deliberate effort to continuously and consistently grow the strengths.
A former vice chancellor of the University of Lagos, Professor Oye Ibidapo-Obe, learnt the lesson of always developing his strengths the hard way.
He had emerged the best graduating student of the University of Lagos in 1971 and had won a Commonwealth scholarship to study at the University of Waterloo in Canada. He wrote a test in the first semester in which he scored 76 per cent. After the test, the lecturer asked the then Mr Ibidapo-Obe to see him.
According to him, Dr. Bursuski (the lecturer) “told me in clear terms that my performance was far below expectation and par. I was shocked. With 76%?
“What happened was that in my class we had people from all over the world. Everybody studied till the morning; I just studied till about 8p.m and went to bed, having been satisfied that I had covered all that I was taught. I was so sure I knew everything. He gave me the performance chart and if you drew a Bell (Normal Distribution) curve, my 76% was at the left of the curve, there were classmates that scored 90s and 100s.
“I felt ashamed and this is me, brilliant, First Class from Lagos, Commonwealth scholar. I was right there, 76%. So for the first time in my life I learnt that when you do a competitive examination, you have to push yourself beyond excellence, because the grading and ranking of the result is what is important. It is not the absolute score.
“You should target more than 100 per cent. So anything I do in life, I want to be the best. That was a big lesson.”
How strengths are developed
Training – Strengths are scaled up when people are exposed to training because new knowledge and information which would improve performance are provided through training. Training can be in form of seminars, workshops or even going for further studies in the university. It can also come through mentoring by those who are already operating in the reality of your aspiration.
Wins – Winning or success in an endeavour builds confidence and validates the strength.
Setbacks – Failure in an enterprise points attention to areas that need to be worked upon and this invariably results in strengths being developed.
Collaboration – Partnering with those with superior strengths results in strengths being built up.
Stretch your strength
Strength is stretched when new things are tried. Strength is not stretched when we do the convenient and stay in our comfort zones. It is only when we attempt new things that we are able to stretch our strength. Stretching strengths bring new possibilities and new opportunities. This takes you to a height hitherto unimaginable and never contemplated.
Michael Dell’s adventure
Michael Dell, founder and CEO of Dell Technologies, worked his way to greatness and huge fortunes by stretching his strength and trying new things.
When Dell incorporated his company in 1984, selling directly to end users by manufacturers was unthinkable; everyone who manufactured anything had to channel it through wholesalers and retailers. But Dell refused to travel that route. He broke the rule of selling through third parties. Instead of going through vendors he sold his upgrade kits for personal computers directly to end users. This made the prices of his products competitive. So successful was Dell’s company at this that when he was barely 27 years of age in 1992, he emerged as the youngest person to be the CEO of a company ranked in Fortune 500, the best 500 companies in the world. His was one of the first companies to sell computers via the web in 1996. This became the company’s greatest propeller to grand prosperity as the company was able to record $1 million in sales per day from dell.com. In 2001, Dell Inc. became the largest personal computer maker, with a market share of 12.8 per cent, beating Compaq, which hitherto had been world’s number one computer maker.
What was Dell’s magic wand? It was trying new things. When we try new things, new possibilities emerge.
Be legacy conscious
When you’re legacy conscious you are always hungry for more, you are passionate about making an impact and you want to use your strengths to improve the world. So, this keeps you on your toes and takes you from one level of achievement to a higher one. But when you’re not legacy conscious, it is easy to lapse into complacency.
Handling your weaknesses
Weaknesses are like fast flowing rivers, which, if not dammed, can cause flooding, but when dammed can be used to generate electricity and provide irrigation. So, weaknesses have to be managed to limit their destructive tendencies.
Dulling the blade of weaknesses can be achieved through the following steps:
Don’t ignore your weaknesses
The poorest way to handle weaknesses is to pretend they don’t exist. Weaknesses do not disappear because they are not recognized. As a matter of fact, failing to recognize them provides them ample opportunity to grow so wild that they bring destruction upon the person or the organization that harbours but ignores them.
Nokia was the clear market leader in mobile phones in the 1990s and early 2000s as a result of being the first company in the world to create a cellular network. But as good as Nokia was, its Achilles’ heel was its over concentration on hardware and neglect of software.
With the arrival of internet, it became obvious that data, not voice, was the future of communication but Nokia refused to change its focus from hardware to software. By the time Apple launched the iPhone, a phone without a keyboard, in 2007, the focus of the world shifted from Nokia to Apple. Though Nokia attempted to fight back with the launch of its Android in 2008, it was too late.
Although Nokia is making waves in other segments of the industry, it has lost the mobile phone market leadership to Apple, it is not even next in line. The company lost its edge because it ignored its weakness.
Don’t over concentrate on your weaknesses
The flip side of ignoring your weaknesses is to over-concentrate on them with the aim of turning them into strengths. It is almost impossible to turn a weakness into a strength because it is primarily a capacity deficiency. Trying to turn a weakness into a strength can be likened to trying to make a fowl soar like an eagle, no effort on earth will make that happen. The only thing that may happen is that the trained fowl would be able to fly higher than its peers but that would not take it to the height of an eagle.
Have a measuring mechanism for your weakness
The best way to handle a weakness is to have a standard by which it is measured. If it is a character flaw, regularly bring it to the fore and compare it with the acceptable standard. It is also very important to always remind yourself of the consequences of allowing the weakness to have its way. If it is capacity deficiency, regularly compare your performance in that area to industry standard. Doing this will not turn it into an area of strength but it would make you conscious of what you need to do to mitigate the effects of the weakness. The more you work on your weaknesses the more difficult it gets for them to hinder your rise.
Balancing strengths with weaknesses is key to sustainable success.
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