Most of the senior leadership or personal development guidelines recommend that our strengths be the area where one focuses to improve his or her performance. The justification for such guidance is that it is easier for a person to make incremental gains in an area of strength rather than having to work very hard to modify or eliminate a gap or weakness. In general, I completely agree with this advice. However…..
I hope that most of you would agree that we must take some action, and in some cases a lot of action, to understand and seek to improve some of our most glaring gaps or weaknesses. There are some obvious, really bad, areas that we simply must not ignore. The really bad gaps are rare, and because they are so harmful you can be certain they will be addressed, one way or another, simply because of their severity. If not, you will find yourself on the receiving end of a Donald Trump like barrage, “You’re Fired!!”.
But, I am talking about the gaps and weaknesses that are not so severe. I am talking about those gaps that perhaps show up during your performance reviews during those years where you are not one of the highest rated performers. Perhaps you were still in the top end of the rating distribution, but not quite at the top. Or maybe it’s one of those areas for improvement that you are completely self-aware, but perhaps the gap is not so visible to others.
The best, and in my opinion the most important advice I can provide in this area is to really (I mean REALLY) improve your self awareness around your gaps and weaknesses. That’s the first step, but for some this is very difficult. We all know the old adage, “It’s very difficult to change how we are wired.” But, if you are self-aware, then you can at least take some small steps to modify your behavior when you find that your “wiring” is making you act in ways that are not beneficial to the situation at hand.
Whether the gaps are small or large and/or whether the gaps are in your organization, I suggest that you take some of the following steps:
- Set some specific, quantifiable goals to address the gap. Don’t establish a goal like “I want to improve in xyx area”, but rather something like “For this quarter, I will take <list specific actions here> that will allow me to address xyz gap.”
- Seek out advice from some of your allies whom you can trust to be absolutely honest (and discreet, if necessary) with you. Share your gaps and the goals to address the gaps with them. Ask them to watch you over the quarter (from the example above) and let you know if you are progressing or not.
- Monitor your progress against the goals on a regular basis. The end of the work week worked best for me, but no matter when you choose to assess your progress, make sure you keep the goal on the forefront of your mind.
- Put yourself in situations where you know that your gap may be exposed. Practice makes perfect.
- Don’t beat yourself up if you falter along the way. Addressing weaknesses takes time, so don’t give up if you have ignored the issue for a few weeks. Get right back on the bus.
- Congratulate yourself if you are making progress!
I believe that you can apply these suggestions for your own personal development and also use them to help develop your team members. In doing so, you actually will be taking some steps towards addressing some of the gaps and weaknesses both from a personal perspective and also from an organizational perspective. More importantly, even if you still cannot completely modify or eliminate the bad habit, at minimum you will be increasing your self-awareness around the gap. With that awareness, you will already be taking the first step towards learning how to not only leverage your strengths, but also your gaps.