Your Weaknesses Are Not What You are Bad At

Listen carefully: Your weaknesses are not what you are bad at, and your strengths are not what you are good at.

Your weaknesses are the things that make you feel weak, and your strengths are the things that make you feel strong.

This means there is incredible hope for growth. For when we say “your greatest opportunity for growth is in your area of your strengths, not your weaknesses,” we do not mean: “if you are bad at something, you don’t have much hope of ever getting better at it.”

There might be something that you are initially bad at but which you could become excellent at. For if it is something that makes you feel strong, then it’s not a weakness and you won’t be stuck. You just need to work on it — and work hard — and you will experience tremendous growth.

Having a right definition of strengths and weaknesses keeps us from a fatalistic mindset. It says: “It doesn’t matter what you are bad at. If there is something you want to accomplish, identify what makes you feel strong and seek to accomplish it along that path. If you currently aren’t good at something but doing it makes you feel strong, great news: you will be able to experience tremendous growth in that area if you work hard at it. And if there are legitimate areas of weakness (things that weaken you) that weigh you down, you can navigate around them by identifying your strengths and leveraging them to pass by your weaknesses.”

  • Ryan

    This seems like a helpful understanding of strengths and weaknesses. I wonder—could you give an example of a strength or weakness in contrast to an area of skill/no skill (either for you personally or someone else)?

  • Connie Z.

    This is a little confusing to me. Could you flesh it out some more?

  • Matt

    Sure. I’ll flesh this out with examples, per Ryan’s idea.

    Marcus Buckingham points out (see his book _Now, Discover Your Strengths_) that strength is talent + knowledge + skill.

    Knowledge is the facts you know, skills are the steps of the activity, and talent is any naturally recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior.

    So, to use one of Buckingham’s examples: Having a natural inclination to want to interact with new people and enjoying making this connection with them, is a talent. You don’t choose to have this inclination. It is just there–it is a _naturally occurring_ pattern.

    Now, building relationships with new people is added by having certain knowledge–for example, to give a real boring example, knowing the social customs of your culture. And, there are also certain “steps,” so to speak, that can make it easier or harder to get to know someone the first time (ask them about their history, what they are interested in, etc.).

    Talent is innate and enduring–you don’t chose to have this talent or that. It’s how you are wired. Knowledge and skill can be added. Talent serves as a multiplier to knowledge and skill. You will be more effective if you add knowledge and skill in an area that relates to a talent than a non-talent, and when you do so the knowledge and skill will be _multiplied_ in their effectiveness by the talent.

    Now, back to the example. The love of making connections with new people is a talent (called “woo” in the Strengths Finder). The strength in this case would be “the ability to build a network of supporters who know you and are prepared to help you.” You can build your initial talent of enjoying connecting with new people in to the strength of building a network of supporters by adding knowledge and skill.

    Here is another example Buckingham gives: The ability to to confront others is a talent, called “command” in the strengths finder. The ability to sell successfully using this talent is a strength. When you combine the talent of “command” with product knowledge and selling skills, you build and increase your strength of “being able to sell successfully.”

    The way to state the difference might be this: A strength is the _productive application_ of a talent.

    To draw this back to the post: Since strengths are talent, knowledge, and skill, you might be “bad” at something simply because you lack the knowledge and skill–not because you lack the talent.

    A good mark of a talent is that you enjoy doing things that utilize that talent. Hence, if something makes you feel strong, it is a really good indication that there is a talent at work there–and thus a big multiplier to any skills and knowledge you add. Further, people rarely enjoy things that don’t call on something that is a talent, and so the fact that you enjoy something is a good indication that you can build it in to a strength.

    Also, there are often many different ways to approach something. For example, for leadership there are two qualities that are essential: optimism (the belief that we can make the future better [who would want to follow someone who didn’t believe that?]) and ego (the belief that you are the one to take us there). But aside from the importance of those two qualities, people can lead by leveraging a whole host of diverse strengths. The book Strengths Based Leadership, in fact, profiles five or so different leaders who are very different in their talents, but who are each very effective.

    This is a bit long, and there’s more that can be said, but I hope this helps a bit.

  • Nick fortescue

    The one thing that worries me about this is the fundamental assumption that we should be trying to be strong. Surely there is a place for rejoicing in our weakness and Gods strength.could you maybe in another post talk about what you think it means to try and be strong in a godly way?