When an interviewer says, “tell me about your weaknesses” a common piece of advice is to try to spin the answer as a strength. “I tend to be a bit of a workaholic.” “I can be a perfectionist.” “My default answer to stress is to go running. I think I sometimes use that as a way to think about things.”
I have seen “gap planning” meetings designed to pinpoint an individual’s weaknesses and then create a plan to fix them. But what does “fixed” really mean? It would seem the desired outcome is for everyone to be an expert at everything, no gaps, no weaknesses.
When I say it like that it sounds ridiculous. But what is the big deal about weaknesses? There is no expectation that everyone should be equally excellent at everything. Each person on the team has the thing they do best and other things that they aren’t so good at. That is a good thing.
The use of the word ‘weakness’ suggests a shortcoming or failure that must be overcome. There are many occasions where what might be a weakness in one case is a strength in another. You certainly don’t want to fix that weakness to where it doesn’t exist and lose the use of it as a strength.
I am a quintessential type A personality. I work best with people who think quickly, get their thoughts on the table, make decisions, take action and make changes as they go. I don’t want to change that about myself in any way. I get a lot of work done in a short time and that serves me well.
However, I realize that there are lots of valuable ideas that can get lost in an environment that is driving at the speed of light all the time. I know it is to my benefit to listen to those who are more methodical in their thought process. I completely respect that their perspective can be very beneficial. Sometimes I just need to be reminded.
This is a person who realizes their strength can sometimes be a weakness. Trying to change or fix it would actually be a detriment to them and to the team. If he/she was oblivious to how their desire to drive forward and fix things on the fly might make other people crazy, that would be something to work on. Because they are aware, the best plan is to develop a way to remind him/her to breathe so other people can add their thoughts and ideas. That way a strength can continue to be a strength even when it is masquerading as a weakness.
Another situation where fixing a weakness might not be in your best interest is when you and the team will not benefit by the change.
A great example is a position player. In major league baseball American League pitchers don’t hit. When they play in a game where they have to hit it is accepted that they are going to be weak at the plate. It isn’t worth their time to practice being better hitters. The same is true of goalies having fast mile times or your Creative Director being good a accounting. There simply are some weaknesses that don’t need to be fixed. And in that case are they really a weakness?
Do you agree that some weakness are not actually failings that need to be fixed? Do you have an example where fixing a weakness actually caused a problem? Share with us!
Next week we will talk about when putting a Band-Aid on a problem actually does help.