John Maxwell’s writings have inspired countless readers the world over. His positive message, wrapped in beautiful prose, makes reading his books a delight. My favorite is Maxwell’s The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader.
At one point in the book, John Maxwell discusses the idea of strengths versus weaknesses. In the book, he suggests how we should focus our energies:
- Focus 70% of your time and energy on strengths
- Focus 25 % on new things
- Focus 5% on weaknesses
Maxwell’s suggestion is simple: Play from your strengths. Furthermore, it echoes the message of many leadership and management books. As just one example, in the hallmark book, The Effective Executive, Peter Drucker talks of making strengths productive, and doing so in such a way that it makes weaknesses irrelevant.
Playing from our strengths is the opposite of what we are usually encouraged to do. In our jobs, the typical evaluation system is designed to identify our weaknesses and lead us through the formation of a plan to improve them. In the end, we may find ourselves with no glaring weaknesses, but also with no real strengths either.
Would we really encourage Tom Hanks to focus more on his mathematical skills, since he has acting pretty well mastered? Would we have had Jonas Salk spend more time working on a better bedside manner and less time perfecting a vaccine for polio? Would we encourage Nick Saban to take singing lessons and spend less time studying football film? What about encouraging Elton John to spend his time learning more about football and less time perfecting his music?
Certainly I am not in favor of overlooking flaws which significantly hinder performance. Ignoring strengths while continuously focusing on weaknesses, however, is a formula for mediocrity.
Ask people what they want from life, and “happiness” usually tops the list. It is something for which we all long, and something seen as the reward for work well-done. For most of us, we are happier when we are doing what we do well. It is also in focusing on the areas at which we excel that we are able to contribute best to the world around us.
What about our weaknesses? Can we delegate them to someone else who is strong in that area? Can you “swap out,” and handle for someone else an area where you are strong and he/she is weak while that person does the same for you? Does the weakness necessarily need to be addressed at all? If the impact is not terribly negative, ignoring it may be the best alternative.
When we make our New Year’s Resolutions, the exercise is typically a reminder of where we fall short rather than an examination of what we have accomplished and how we can most likely accomplish even more in the coming year.
What is it that you do well? How could you move that skill to the next level? Those two questions just may be the key to a happier and more productive time ahead for you and those whose lives you impact. “Good enough” is not good, and it’s rarely enough. Each of us is capable of excellence. I think Maxwell is correct when he argues it comes as a result of playing from our strengths.