Why You Should Focus on Improving Your Strengths, Not Your Weaknesses
Recently, my family and I took the Gallup Strengths Finders Test, and while I’ve generally been a bit skeptical of such things, I found that when looking over my results, it pretty much described me perfectly. The test takes about an hour and lists out 34 different strengths in order of first to last. For example, my first place strength was “input,” which is describes as such:
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“People with strong Input talents are inquisitive. They always want to know more. They crave information. They like to collect certain things, such as ideas, books, memorabilia, quotations, or facts. Whatever they collect, they do it because it interests them. They find many things interesting and have a natural curiosity. The world is exciting precisely because of its infinite variety and complexity. A few minutes of surfing the Internet may turn into hours once their curiosity takes off. They constantly acquire, compile, and file things away. Their pursuits keep their minds fresh. And they know that one day some of the information or things they have gathered will prove valuable.”
That pretty much describes me to a T. Indeed, I always have this sinking suspicion that somewhere out there, someone knows more than I do.
But the key point in all this is that we, as a society, focus obsessively on fixing our weaknesses. This is the wrong way to go according to Gallup. As Tom Rath and David de Vries write in the companion book: “We were tired of living in a world that revolved around fixing our weaknesses. Society’s relentless focus on people’s shortcomings had turned into a global obsession. What’s more, we had discovered that people have several times more potential for growth when they invest energy in developing their strengths instead of correcting their deficiencies” (Rath i).
They go on to explain the research that proves that focusing on improving your strengths is better than focusing on improving your weaknesses:
“Over the past decade, Gallup has surveyed more than 10 million people worldwide on the topic of employee engagement (or how positive and productive people are at work), and only one-third ‘strongly agree’ with the statement:
“‘At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.’
“And for those who do not get to focus on what they do best—their strengths—the costs are staggering. In a recent poll of more than 1,000 people, among those who ‘strongly disagreed’ or ‘disagreed’ with this ‘what I do best’ statement, not a single person was emotionally engaged on the job.
“In stark contrast, our studies indicate that people who do have the opportunity to focus on their strengths every day are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general” (ii-iii).
In some ways, this reminds me of the argument Cal Newport made in So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, namely, that to “follow your passion’ is dangerous advice.” Instead:
“This argument flips conventional wisdom. It relegates passion to the sidelines, claiming that this feeling is an epiphenomenon of a working life well lived. Don’t follow your passion; rather, let it follow you in your quest to become, in the words of my favorite Steve Martin quote, ‘so good that they can’t ignore you.'” (xx).
In other words, don’t go around hoping to find your passion. Become a master at something (i.e. optimize your strengths) and then you will become passionate about it. Indeed, I didn’t start out passionate about real estate, but here I am.
How to Focus on Your Strengths
How many times have we heard, “I wish I did that better?” How many times have we said it ourselves? We should try to relegate that sentiment to the back burner. Instead, when making a list of areas in our life that we aren’t good at, we should figure out how to minimize them or delegate them away.
For example, I am not particularly detail-oriented. So I have delegated tasks such account reconciliations, procedure manual editing, due diligence on leases, and things like that to others. On the other hand, while I don't like the nitty gritty details, I do like analysis overall (remember, input was my number one strength). So, looking overall the financials and putting together pro formas is something I like and generally excel at. The key is to find the areas you are good at and focus more on them while delegating as much of what you're bad at away.
Neither my brother, father, nor I are very good at maintenance or construction. Indeed, my dad has some rather funny stories from when he first started about his “rehab” work. So house hacking would not be for us, whereas, for the more handy out there, house hacking could be a great fit.
Gallup Strengths Finder also has some helpful tips for maximizing these strengths. One for input is to “devise a system to store and easily locate information. This can be as simple as for all the articles you have clipped or as sophisticated as a computer database.” Perhaps this is why I like David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity system so much. That being said, I recommend that system for just about anyone.
Gallup Strengths Finder also has tips for how to work with and manage people who have particular strengths. So it can be very effective organizationally as well. Regardless, knowing what you’re good at and focusing on improving that is the most effective way to improve, even if that goes against common wisdom.
Have you taken the Gallup Strengths Finder Test? What tasks do you delegate in your business?