Legendary NCAA football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant said, “It’s not the will to win that matters – everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.” And you can’t prepare to win without taking an honest look at your weaknesses.
How honest are you with the person you see in the mirror?
It’s not easy to admit to weaknesses, let alone bring them into the light, but humanity has long known of the importance of doing so. Most major religions include purification rituals and holidays or seasons dedicated to recognizing and addressing our shortcomings.
As a leader, you’re expected to build on your strengths, but you can’t ignore your weaknesses. Shoring up weaknesses while fine-tuning your strengths is how you optimize overall leadership skills. Some organizations have coaching programs specifically to help leaders do this, but if yours doesn’t, you can tackle this challenge yourself. Here’s how.
How to Identify Your Weakest Leadership Skills
One way to focus on the areas of your leadership skills where there’s opportunity for improvement is to ask yourself some key questions:
• “What do I avoid?” – whether it’s public speaking, confrontation, or making spending forecasts, you can often find weaknesses by examining what you actively avoid.
• “What do people tell me?” – Review your performance history as well as feedback from managers and colleagues. If several have mentioned the same thing, it may be an area you need to work on.
• “What does this brutally honest person say?” – If someone in your organization whom you respect and who is known for frankness points out a weakness, take a closer look.
• “What do I (and others) joke about?” – If you are self-deprecating about how disorganized you are, or if others have a “go-to” punchline about you that rings true, it’s worth looking into.
• “What past failures still make me cringe?” – Everyone has failures they would prefer to forget, but they often hold important clues about what holds us back. Don’t be afraid to reexamine major blunders to see if you’ve worked through any of it.
The Importance of Thinking Things Through
Once you have identified weaknesses you want to improve upon, think through what you expect once you have addressed them. If you, for example, learn to overcome conflict avoidance, what can you expect? Perhaps you can expect more time to get things done rather than refereeing spats between employees. Whatever you plan to work on, do so on a foundation of clear, forward thinking, honesty, and consideration of consequences. What’s the worst that could happen? Sure, you could make mistakes, but you’ll eventually have yet another strong skill in your leadership skills toolkit.
Think through the benefits of addressing your shortcomings as a leader.
Improving Listening Skills Lays a Solid Foundation
Suppose you’re not sure where to begin to address your weaknesses. Many, if not most, shortcomings in leadership can be improved upon by building better listening skills. Better listening skills help the reluctant public speaker read the room better. They help the conflict avoider better assess potential issues bubbling below the surface, and they help the leader with the short fuse avoid misunderstandings and potentially alienating team members. Better listening leads to better self-awareness, which is a key ingredient in strong emotional intelligence – one of the hallmarks of great leaders. Working on listening skills can be a great starting point.
Like Athletes, You Need to Cross-Train for Leadership
Just as the star pitcher has to work on more than his fastball, and the champion shot-putter must develop lower as well as upper body strength, leaders must work on multiple leadership skills. Some leaders, for example, are naturally quiet and reserved and want to work on speaking up and looking people in the eye. That’s great, but they should continue to work on their strengths, like excellent listening ability, or their strong analytical skills. The successful athletic coach ensures that team members work on overall fitness and game strategy as well as role-specific skills. Your approach to leadership should be similar.
To be a truly outstanding leader, you have to acknowledge and address weaknesses so they work with, and not against your leadership style. Leadership doesn’t run from reality, even when it’s harsh, and a great leader is never a “one trick pony.” The sooner you recognize and confront your weaknesses, the sooner you’ll improve your overall leadership skills. At Teams of Distinction, we’re all about developing and realizing potential. We invite you to learn more about our Team Building Executive Coaching programs and how you can benefit from them.