Beyond Strengths and Weaknesses

When you’re working on your BD plan, it’s important to have an objective and accurate sense of your strengths. I’ve met lawyers—my client Nate, for example— who enjoy making presentations to large groups of people (at a conference, for example) but rarely get follow-up conversations that lead to business when, in contrast, small-group or one-on-one conversations often forward the progress toward landing a new matter.

Several problems could account for the difference. I watched as Nate spoke from the stage at a conference and later saw him speak with a few individuals and smaller groups between conference sessions. I realized that speaking to small groups and individuals is a strength for Nate while speaking to large audiences is a weakness. This wasn’t a blind spot: Nate kicked off our first post-conference conversation by telling me that he knew he hadn’t done well, but that he planned to work on his speaking skills and improve so that he’d knock it out of the park at his next presentation.

The problem is that we tend to talk about strengths and weaknesses as if a weakness is just an undeveloped strength.  Not so.  Sometimes, a weakness is an inability, pure and simple, that can be corrected only by bringing in assistance from another resource.  Here’s what I explained to Nate (with thanks to Don Blohowiak, a coaching colleague who shared this useful framework):

  • Potential refers to your native capabilities than can be (but have not yet been) developed.
  • Strengths refer to the capabilities that you execute competently to masterfully.
  • Limitations refer to the capabilities that you have in short supply.  Some limitations can be developed, and others will require replacement from another source.
  • Absences refer to the capabilities that you simply don’t have.  There is no shame in lacking capabilities.  No one has every possible capability.  Instead, the task is to find someone whose capabilities are complementary to your absences.  (If, for instance, you are leading a client service team and complex accounting is an important part of the matter and you lack masterful accounting skills, you must find someone who can bring that competency to the team.)
  • Weaknesses refer to the capabilities that you pretend to have but cannot actually execute.

Using this model, Nate’s speaking to a large audience is a weakness (as he recognized) but because he pretended that he could correct it, the weakness could not be eliminated.  Nate was failing at business development because he was leading from a weakness and pretending it was a strength.

Review your business development plan, your professional development plan, your career strategy plan – any plan at all that reflects your goals – and ask these questions:

  • What are my strengths?
  • How are my strengths reflected in my plan?
  • How can I develop my potential so I can deploy those capabilities in my plan?
  • What weaknesses am I denying?
  • Do my priorities coincide with my strengths?

If, like Nate, you lead from weakness, you will produce only frustration.  Spend some time in honest self-reflection and look for opportunities to shift what you’re doing based on your natural and developed capabilities.  And, if (like Nate) you find that you’ve been pretending that you are developing your weaknesses, stop pretending.  Shift your approach.

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