These days, it is common to read about strengths-based approaches to leadership and development. The idea is to maximise the talents of the leader and concentrate on them, rather than focusing on their leadership weaknesses.
However, it is instructive to know your leadership weaknesses. It’s not about beating yourself up and focusing on the negatives. Rather, it’s beneficial to understand limitations in the way you work, your skills, and any knowledge gaps.
We can reframe these negatives to actually become positive factors in the way you lead.
What types of leadership weaknesses do you have?
Leadership weaknesses exist in skills, experience, personal traits and knowledge. Skill weaknesses are obvious. You can’t do certain tasks well, because you’ve never learnt or you’re not qualified. Experience weaknesses simply mean you haven’t had enough exposure to certain situations, roles or industries.
Weaknesses regarding personal traits involve leadership styles, personal styles such as being introverted (or extroverted!) or perhaps having limited self confidence. It’s important to note that a weakness in one workplace or role may actually be a strength in another!
Knowledge weaknesses indicate a lack of understanding in a given area, and these also may relate to the problem of limited experience.
You might have any or all of these types of leadership weaknesses. Fear not. Everybody has weaknesses, it’s what you do with them that count.
Let’s look at some of the benefits of understanding your leadership weaknesses.
1. Leadership weaknesses allow you to resource your team to cover them
An obvious advantage of understanding your leadership weaknesses is that you can put the right people around you to cover your shortfalls.
One of my previous managers was not so good at planning, structure and detail. He was great with people, networking and building relationships. So when I was in his team, I brought the attention to detail and structured approach.
This worked well, because my manager knew his weaknesses. Instead of avoiding the problems they caused, he made sure he had the right skills to cover the gaps.
2. Leadership weaknesses allow you to provide opportunities
It’s not only about covering gaps by resourcing your team appropriately. You can also use your weaknesses to provide opportunities for others to shine.
If you have a leadership weakness in a certain area that somebody in your team has a keen interest in, this is a perfect opportunity to delegate accountability for the task or function.
Not only can you cover your own shortcomings, but you can motivate team members at the same time. It is motivating for your team to step up and take on responsibility for tasks where you have limitations.
Remember that just because you’re a leader, it doesn’t mean that you need to be responsible for everything in your team.
3. Leadership weaknesses help you to be more strategic
If you understand your shortfalls, you can plan effectively to work around them. This is particularly useful if you happen to be leading a project or some other change effort. During your planning, you can craft situations and approaches that maximise your strengths and those of your team.
You might approach a situation differently, depending on the makeup of your team and their relative strengths and weaknesses. There are almost always multiple ways to implement change, so you should look for ways that work to your advantage.
4. Leadership weaknesses allow you to build relationships
In general, I find that people like leaders who have confidence, but are humble enough to also be open with their limitations. Understanding your leadership weaknesses allows you to build relationships by asking others around you for their help.
Acknowledging your shortcomings and asking for help can be confronting for some leaders. Particularly those that are caught in the leadership ego bubble. But when you approach people with humility and a genuine need for assistance, you may find that people around you are thrilled to be able to help out where you don’t have the skills, knowledge or capability.
5. Leadership weaknesses give you things to work on
I’m not pretending that leadership weaknesses can’t be helped. Of course they can. You might not be able to address them to the point where they become a strength. However, you can work on your limiting leadership characteristics so that they don’t provide as much trouble for you.
Knowledge weaknesses might be reduced by additional learning through courses or research. Skills can be acquired by training or mentoring with others who are more capable. Experience gaps can often be addressed by taking yourself out of your comfort zone to increase your exposure to key areas. Or, it might simply involve staying in certain roles for a sufficient period of time.
How do you know if you need to work on your weaknesses?
There is no concrete answer to this question. Actually, scratch that. Yes there is! The answer is:
“If your leadership weaknesses are bothering you, causing you distress or problems in your role or career, you need to work on them.”
A personal example is my previous fear of public speaking. Years ago, I was petrified of speaking in front of others. My hands and voice shook and I would stammer and say “um” an awful lot.
As my career progressed, I realised that this would be a problem. I was starting to avoid situations where I would need to speak in front of others. This meant that I was unable to take on valuable opportunities if they involved any form of public speaking.
This bothered me greatly and I knew it was going to cause issues in the future. So I joined a Toastmasters club (shout out to the lovely people at St Georges Toastmasters in Perth!), and spent two years practicing my public speaking skills. Today, I am not worried about public speaking at all. In fact, in many respects, I quite enjoy it.
Leadership weaknesses aren’t all bad. Sometimes, they are a minor inconvenience that you can cover or even use to provide others with opportunities to shine. Others are more serious and require effort to reduce or overcome.
Do you have any leadership weaknesses? What are you going to do about them?
More importantly, what are you going to do with them?