August 23, 2017

Lesson #8: Weakness — What Do You Dread?

One of my favorite sayings about weakness is:

Pain is just weakness leaving the body — General Lewis B. Puller, USMC

The reason this rings so true to me is that I, like many of you, feel a tremendous amount of mental and sometimes physical pain breaking through my weaknesses.

Whether it’s recovering from an injury, learning a new technology, trying to improve my butterfly stroke or just writing a post about a subject I know little about, overcoming weakness can be painful.

What helps me is that I now think of weaknesses as improvement inflection points. My weakness are meant to show me opportunities to improve and grow.

The Positive Aspect of Weakness

My intent here is not to dwell on everything that is weak about you or me. Rather, as leaders, we need to work on certain aspects of our lives to make ourselves better. These weaknesses are not necessarily negative — just focal points for growth.

Growth, in anything, comes from working hard on mastery (as we discussed in the Talent lesson). Our weaknesses are golden opportunities to grow. Through weakness elimination, we more deeply understand ourselves and how to improve other areas of our lives.

Of course, there will always be some weaknesses that we may never overcome. It might be because the cost to overcome is too high, the benefit is not that great or you just don’t have the knack for it. When confronted with those weaknesses, the best approach is to work around them(we will talk more about weakness work-arounds later one).

Identifying Your Weaknesses

If the self-help market is any indication, we are all keenly aware of our shortcomings and spend billions on improving ourselves.

In some cases, this trend makes us weaker and more helpless simply because we blame our lack of achievement on our weaknesses brought about by either our nature or nurture. Clearly, or maybe not so clearly, this is a fallacy.

If you get anything out of Leading from Within, it’s that you can improve your leadership skills and therefore your success by have a positive attitude, working hard and dealing with your fears and weaknesses.

Enough of the soap box. Let’s discuss how you can identify your weaknesses so that you can improve or work around them. Consider the points below as a great place to start:

  • Feeling of dread Any task or activity you dread is probably because you are weak at it (unless it’s scrubbing toilets, then it’s just cause it’s a bad job). Look at why you dread certain things to ascertain if it’s just fear or a true weakness.

  • Multiple failed attempts: If you constantly fail at a task, then it’s probably a weakness. Whether or not you can overcome it will depend entirely on how motivated you are and the type of training you can get.

  • Anxiety while performing the task: If you find yourself on edge or not wanting to fail at something, then that’s a pretty good clue that weakness is giving you anxiety.

  • Quick to give up: Giving up means you are certain that failure is around the corner. That usually indicates a weakness you need to work on.

  • Tried to improve but failed: Multiple failed attempts at improvement are clear indications that the task or skill might be a weakness that needs attention.

Before we dive into weakness improvement, we will take a look at another option — working around them.

Working Around Weakness

There are somethings you just can’t improve. Well, actually, let me rephrase that, there are somethings things that aren’t worth the pain, suffering and cost to improve. When you run into those skills, your best bet is to work around them as best you can. It’s perfectly valid and in some ways the best way to proceed. Some ways to work around your weaknesses include:

  • Delegate to someone else: By far the easiest work around (if you have someone to delegate too). It’s also a good way to learn that you should not do.

  • Pay a professional: The second best option if you can’t delegate. There are lots of professionals out there that can help with all sorts of tasks. Just be sure you can actually outsource the task to them.

  • Split the task into parts: It could be that your weakness is just for a particular part of a task. If you break it down into it’s component parts, you may be able to get most of it done and then find help for the other pieces.

  • Get targeted coaching: Coaches can help you overcome your weaknesses by evaluating why your skills are weak in a particular area. This targeted coaching can also provide valuable tricks to work around those point weaknesses.

  • Ghost Help: Just like a ghost writer, ghost help can be a paid professional or someone on your staff. The difference is they do the work and you appear to have done it. Executives sometimes do this when complying slides for a pitch since they are not experts in the finances or the technological details.

  • Fake It Till You Make It: This only works for a little while until you can either delegate, pay a professional or get ghost help. Faking it is a facade that you put up to give the impression that you know what you are doing. Politicians are good at this because they have to fake it a little to appear knowledgeable, in control and in touch.

An important point about all this weakness talk is to not let them frustrate you. Every single one of us confronts this problem. There are somethings we are just not good at. We all need to step back and assess why and how we can either improve our weaknesses or work around them.

Improving Your Weaknesses

Self-help book sales aside, we all want to be better. We aspire to improve ourselves to provide for our families and to achieve our dreams.

As a leader, your supporters will put a tremendous amount of faith in your skills — even your weaknesses. It’s kinda strange but the cult of leadership tends to minimize a leaders weaknesses. Just look at Bill Clinton, Gavin Newsom, Nicolas Sarkozy or Jerry Falwell.

This does not mean that weakness will not be exploited by rivals but rather there is a certain amount that’s tolerable.

When working on your weaknesses, it’s best to take the incremental approach (You will hear me say that a lot) because it will get frustrating at times. Below is a 5 step process to work on your weaknesses after you have identified them.

Step 1: Break It Down

Tasks or skills can always be broken down into smaller pieces. These pieces form the building blocks of the task. Each piece may or may not be a weakness. For example, if you are a writer, the weak part of your writing process may be idea generation or piece structure or maybe the content.

By breaking it down into smaller pieces you can identify the weak part and focus on that.

Step 2: Find The Least Weakest Piece

Little wins are important. They help you build momentum to get the big win. By working on your least weakest piece, you can incrementally overcome the weakness by being motivated by achievement instead of frustration.

This strategy is commonly called “picking the low hanging fruit.” The key to it’s success is that you build on your successes — just don’t stop once all the low hanging fruit has been picked.

Step 3: Get Targeted Coaching

Now that you have identified the piece you want to work on, go find a coach. A coach could be as simple as an Internet search for an expert blog post or it could be a real live person.

Whatever way you go, make sure to seek out some sort of coaching to give you proper instruction on the piece of the task you are working on.

If the task is a creative one, then you might need to try various different methods before you find one that works. Creative weakness are always the most tricky since creativity is a personal thing and one size coaching does not usually work.

Step 4: Practice

Practice is where the magic happens. If you practice consistently and with focus, your weakness will slowly go away.

I cannot stress this enough. Practice is the most important aspect of any talent, skill or task improvement — including strengths. Without practice, you don’t build that muscle memory and fire all those neurons for how to properly perform or create.

There are different levels of practice. The most important level is what Daniel Coyle called Deep Practice where you focus on the task or skill intently and with engagement and purpose so that you stimulate as much of your brain as possible.

Step 5: Take The Next Least Weakest Piece and Repeat

Once you have mastered a piece, take on the the next least weakest piece. What you are trying to do is incrementally build a competency in the weakness so that it will encourage you to continue on. Without small wins behind you, the process will be frustrating and you will soon give up. There will be struggle, setbacks and frustration but having a small win under you belt will give you that needed boost to continue on.

It’s About The Little Wins

By following this method, you can achieve those incremental wins that lead to bigger and bigger things. The most frustrating part of improving your weaknesses is lack of progress. Once you make progress, your resolve will deepen. That resolve will encourage you to work harder and longer to turn your weaknesses into a strengths.

 Take-a-way: Learn your weaknesses and be ready to either work on them or work around them.

Things to Ponder

  1. Identify your weaknesses by writing them down. Limit the list to only 10. Beside each one, write down the effort (1 to 10, 10 being the most) that you think it will take to overcome.

  2. From the list above, pick 2 weaknesses that were below 5. Break these down into smaller tasks or skills. Rank each piece 1 to 10 as before.

  3. Taken the broken down list and work on those smaller skills that are under 5. Try 1 or 2 a week or month. Monitor your progress by writing a sentence or two on your progress each weak.

  4. From the weakness list, identify 2 that are not worth the pain and suffering to improve. Next to each one, write down how you will work around them.

  5. Sometimes a weakness is just a fear. Looking at your list from #1, which ones are really fears? If you have identified ones that a fear, write down why you fear it. Consider revisiting the fear lesson to help you overcome it.

  6. Seek our a friend or colleague that has mastered one of your weaknesses (pick one of the harder ones). Ask them to mentor you.

Exploring Further


This post is part of a series called Leading from Within, a FREE course on how to lead your most important supporter — you. If you landed here via other means (like Google, Twitter or a friend), you can learn more about the course and sign up here.