Saturday, 16 May 2015 15:38

Strengths vs. Weaknesses: The Battle for Dominance

Do You Know Your Strengths?


Most of us have a poor sense of our talents and strengths, yet are acutely aware of our weaknesses and flaws.

Throughout the education system and subsequent careers, there's often been much more attention paid to how to improve and fix our shortcomings rather than enhance our strengths.

"Most Americans do not know what their strengths are. When you ask them, they look at you with a blank stare, or they respond in terms of subject knowledge, which is the wrong answer." —Peter Drucker, management expert

Parents, teachers, and managers are well versed in spotting deficits. In fact, most people — partners and spouses included — consider it their duty to point out our weaknesses in the hope of helping us improve.

As a result, most of us have become experts in our weaknesses and spend our lives either trying to fix these flaws or accept them as permanent character defects.  

Consequently, our strengths lie dormant and neglected. The research, however, is clear: we grow and develop by focusing on our strengths, rather than trying to correct faults.

Over the last decade, coaching and leadership professionals have been placing greater emphasis on developing personal strengths. The goal is to help individuals work with what they have and build on their natural talents in order to achieve more lasting success.  

Clearly we can't turn a blind eye to our weaknesses. However by giving more of our attention to growing our strengths, we place ourselve in a much stronger positon to stay accountable to our goals by accessing our naturally strong and renewable reserves of talent, energy and strength. This is in stark contrast to relying on our inherently limited supplies of willpower to overcomes our weaknesses when obstacles present themselves in life and at work (The Personal Accountability Code, 2014, Di Worrall)

Large corporations like Wells Fargo, Intel, Best Buy, Toyota, and Yahoo now require that employees take surveys measuring talents and strengths. Their CEOs recognise that company success depends on leveraging what already works instead of trying to fix what’s broken.

Cultural Differences


A Gallup poll investigated this phenomenon by asking Americans, French, British, Canadian, Japanese, and Chinese people of all ages and backgrounds this question:

“Which do you think will help you improve the most: knowing your strengths or knowing your weaknesses?” 

The majority of people don’t think that the secret to improvement lies in a deep understanding of their strengths.

- The most strengths-focused culture is the United States, but still only a minority of people--41 percent--felt that knowing their strengths would help them improve the most.

- The least strengths-focused cultures are Japan and China. Only 24 percent believe that the key to success lies in their strengths.

Interestingly, in every culture older people (55 and above) were the least fixated on their weaknesses. Perhaps they've acquired more self-acceptance and realise the futility of trying to be what they are not.

A Focus on Faults


Why do so many people waste time trying to fix themselves and others? Weaknesses are fascinating and strangely mesmerizing, like watching characters in soap operas and on reality TV shows. The attraction lies in the fact we deeply fear our weaknesses, our failures, and even our authentic selves.

The human brain is wired to pay attention to fear and danger. However, if you do not investigate your strengths you will miss out on becoming who you are really meant to be.

Strengths vs. Weaknesses


Often a strength can be a weakness, and vice versa, a weakness can be a strength. Here are some characteristics to watch for in yourself and in the people you work with.  

 Personality Type







(Get it Right)




Excludes feelings from decisions

Goes too far, perfectionist

Too rigid or demanding of self/others


(Get it Done)




Has trouble operating with others

Does not take time to consider other perspectives

Domineering; too focused on doing it "my way"



(Get along)




Tends to conform to wishes of others

No time boundaries; things do not get done

Not assertive or directive


(Get appreciated)

Good Communicator



Talks too  much

Comes on too strong

Dreamer; unrealistic


(Sources: Peter Urs Bender's Guide to Strengths and Weaknesses of Personality Types, & 

Brinkman, Rick, and Kirschner, Rick (2002), Dealing with People You Can't Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst, 2nd ed. McGraw-Hill.)

Do you recognise yourself as fitting into any of these general personality types? Can you identify your strengths? Are you able to see how they can also turn into weaknesses?

The Courage to Use Your Strengths


Most of us take our talents for granted. They are so embedded in us, we aren't aware of them. We assume everyone else is just as capable. 

This way of thinking excludes developing and becoming stronger and more brilliant. You can’t develop what you don’t recognise.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure…We ask ourselves, `Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.” —Marianne Williamson, spiritual teacher

The first step for self-improvement is to identify your strengths. offers a free online strengths test, and the book StrengthsFinder2.0 includes the Gallup assessment. Several excellent books can walk you through the self-assessment process:

1.      Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton (Free Press, 2001)

2.      StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath (Gallup Press, 2007)  

3.      Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Outstanding Performance by Marcus Buckingham (Free Press, 2007)

4.      Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams and Why People Follow by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie (Gallup Press, 2013)

Once your five top strengths are identified, you can examine how they manifest in your life. It may be easier to develop your strengths by working with a professional coach. A coach can help you to identify your talents and strengths and then work on expanding them, putting them into deliberate practice with action steps.

Discovering your strengths is the path toward personal improvement and success. When you pay attention to your deficits and try to overcome them, you over-emphasise your weaknesses. You wind up living a second-rate version of someone else’s life rather than a world-class version of your own.




Last modified on Saturday, 16 May 2015 16:29

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