Almost daily someone asks me, “Bill, I have a real weakness at ___________. What should I do to get better at that?”
I almost always give the same response:
Don’t try to get better. Find someone who is gifted in that area and get their strength working on your behalf.
Turns out that’s a different way of thinking for most people. At least, it is for most Americans. We live in a culture that worships the myth of the omni-competent person. You know. . .
The Person Who Can Do It All
They can lead. They can manage. They can analyze. They can run the numbers in their mind. They can empathize. They can encourage. They can hand out orders. They can motivate. They can challenge. They can sell. They can negotiate. They can persuade. They can communicate. They can listen. They can plan. They can strategize. They can read minds. They can decipher body language. They can write. They can spell. They can tell a joke. They can hold an audience spellbound. They can compose poetry. They can play the violin. They can play the piano. They can sing. They can dance. They can cook. They can speak five languages. They can memorize a list of 500 names. They have beautiful handwriting. They can type 110 WPM. They can speed read. They can run a marathon in under 2:30. They can predict which card will be played next. They can beat the stock market. They can touch their nose with their tongue.
No wonder their spouse thinks they married. . .the most interesting man/woman in the world. [CRESCENDO MUSIC AND CUE LIGHTNING CRASH]
Do you know anyone like that?
I don’t. I’ve never heard of anyone like that. And yet I’ve talked with countless people who aspire to be that person. The Person Who Can Do It All.
I have no problem with people developing within their natural-born areas of God-given strengths. If you have great hand-eye coordination and love throwing a baseball, go hire a pitching coach (as one executive friend of mine has done). If you have a knack for memorizing, go ahead and buy that $199.99 CD series on ninety-eight tips and techniques for improving your memory. If you just love the idea of being able to speak another language, go ahead and enroll in the program for mastering Swahili in less than 12 sessions.
But when it comes to weaknesses—stuff you’re really not wired to do and therefore have no motivation to learn how to do—there’s a much easier way to supply what is needed in a given situation: find someone gifted to the task.
Why try to master something you’re not motivated to do when someone else out there loves to do that thing? The person who can do it on the backstroke. Why not get their strength working on your behalf?
What Are You Good For?
Don’t just take my word on this. Listen to Peter Drucker. He was THE guru of the 20th century on managing the modern corporation. On the issue of strengths and weaknesses he said, “No one is strong in many areas. Measured against the universe of human knowledge, experience, and abilities, even the greatest genius would have to be rated a total failure. There is no such thing as a ‘good man’ [or a ‘good woman’]. Good for what? is the question” (The Effective Executive).
Let’s play out Drucker’s scenario. Imagine a list of all the strengths, abilities, and competencies that all human beings collectively can possibly exhibit. That would be a pretty lengthy list! But the reality is that any single person only possesses a small fraction of all the items on that list.
Looked at that way, we’re all pretty weak, aren’t we? There’s actually not a whole lot of stuff we can do, right? And of what we can do, there’s an even smaller subset of things we are truly motivated to do (at The Giftedness Center we call those things Motivated Abilities).
But that’s the whole point of Drucker’s thought-experiment. Each of us only possesses a handful of core, motivated strengths. Yet those strengths are what distinguish us from everyone else. And those strengths are what we should pay the most attention to using.
As for what we don’t have? Well, we’re blessed to live in a world of 7 billion other people. So whatever strengths we don’t have but need, someone somewhere does have. All we have to do is find that person and strike an alliance with them to get their strengths working on our behalf.
The Answer Is Always “Who?”
Which is why when it comes to getting better at a weakness, the answer to every question is “Who?” Whatever you need, whatever you don’t have, the solution is almost always a person. Someone gifted the task.
So. . .are you struggling to figure out your taxes? Someone out there is gifted to the task of working with numbers and calculations.
Are you having a hard time promoting your ideas at work? Someone out there is gifted to the task of influencing other people.
Are you frustrated because your closets are a mess? Someone out there is gifted to the task of organizing messes and creating efficiencies.
Are you stressed out by work and all the demands of life? Someone out there is gifted to the task of helping people relax, rest, and even play.
Are you a student and not doing well in school? Someone out there is gifted to the task of causing learning to take place.
What “weakness” are you struggling with? Whatever it is, you can remedy it by answering this question: who do you know—or who can you find—who naturally and instinctively does what you could do only by enormous willpower and effort?
POINT OF GRAMMAR: I am fully aware that technically speaking, my statement should read: The answer to every question is “Whom?” As in, whom do you know. . . ? Not who. But since no one uses “whom” anymore, why should I be the one who sounds like a fossil?
Question: What’s an example of a weakness you’ve tried to overcome by becoming a “better” person? How did that work out?
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