Why your weaknesses are hard to spot

19 April, 2018

As part of my Brandheart personal branding process, I take each client through a 360 reputation survey. The client supplies me with names of people who know him or her well, and then through an online software system, these respondents are asked a series of questions about my client (the candidate). One of the questions is: “Describe (the candidate’s) strengths” and another is, “Describe (the candidate’s) weaknesses”.

Over the years I’ve done 100s of these surveys and there are two things – regardless of the candidate or respondent – all results have in common:

  1. There is never difficulty on the part of the respondent to identify and list the candidates’ strengths. Always an abundance of these.
  2. There is often difficulty on the part of the respondent to identify and list the candidate’s weaknesses. Frequently I’ll get replies like, “na” or “I don’t know…” or “I haven’t noticed any weaknesses”.

Here’s why: It’s easy to pick out strengths because it’s something my clients (and you) actually do. For example, you’re highly articulate and persuasive, you’re a creative ideas person, or you’re an effective negotiator. Your strength is something you do that produces a positive outcome, for your team and your business.

Weaknesses are the opposite

On the other hand, it’s difficult to pick out weaknesses because they’re often things we don’t do. For example, we don’t strategise well, aren’t well networked, don’t build positive relationships.

Noticing something which is missing requires a much more perceptive assessment of the candidate, than noticing something that’s already there.

Sometimes the weaknesses presented may have little or no impact on the candidate’s career success e.g. “(candidate) doesn’t like rapid change” or “(candidate) is easily persuaded”. But every now and then, a brave and astute truth teller will identify and articulate the candidate’s blind spot, or fatal flaw.

This is the thing that WILL hamper their success but is far more difficult to pinpoint e.g. a deal that never happens, or an initiative that’s never taken, or the business result that’s never achieved. These weaknesses are so extreme, that no matter how strong the candidates’ strengths, this fatal flaw will always hamper their success.

True story

I once worked with an exceptionally bright, hard-working young woman in a male-dominated industry. Highly driven and technically smart, she’d taken the fast train to the top of her division. Younger by far than all of her subordinates, her CEO had high expectations of her.

The cracks started to show when her team began stonewalling. Exploring this, it became clear that the more pressure my client was under, the more insecure she became, and the more she felt the need to micromanage her team. She treated highly intelligent, highly experienced executives like juniors who had to clock in and out, and give minute-by-minute progress reports. Understandably the team felt disrespected and so became disinterested and disengaged.

Sadly this bright young woman with so much potential refused to acknowledge her fatal flaw, preferring instead to point fingers at her irresponsible team. It was what she was not doing – in this case, respecting and trusting her staff (and herself) – that ultimately led to her inability to deliver on her key performance areas and so serious hamper her career aspirations.

Everyone else could see this clearly, but she just could not.

How to overcome this

Regardless of the position we’re in, we all need a truth-teller – someone or something that gives us feedback on what we’re not doing that’s holding us back. And then be brave enough to act on it.

To set the record straight, I’m a firm believer that to succeed you need to do more of what you’re already doing right, and not expend too much energy on trying to improve minor weaknesses.

However, fatal flaws are the weaknesses so extreme they will seriously hold you back. Unless you’re aware of them, you can’t do anything about them. Unless you act on them, you might never do that special thing you really want to do.

Now you

Do you agree with this point of view? Have you had a related experience you can share?

Robyn Young - Personal Leadership Branding for Executives

About the Author

Robyn Young

As a personal leadership branding strategist, Robyn Young helps individuals identify and articulate their unique strengths, values and goals, empowering them to build an authentic personal brand that resonates with their stakeholders.

Robyn has a keen eye for aligning personal attributes with professional aspirations, helping her clients project a powerful and compelling image in their chosen field.