These days, it’s 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 leadership weaknesses.
However, understanding your leadership weaknesses can be a great thing. It’s not about beating yourself up and focusing on the negatives. Rather, it’s helpful to understand limitations in the way you work, your skills, and any knowledge gaps.
We can reframe these negatives to actually become positive aspects of the way you lead.
Weaknesses in leadership are not something to be feared. If we fear them, we’ll tend to ignore them and avoid dealing with them.
We need to open up and understand where we have weaknesses, so we can adjust to cater for them.
What Types of Leadership Weaknesses Are There?
The common areas we find leadership weaknesses are in the categories of skills, experience, personality traits or knowledge.
Skill weaknesses are obvious. You don’t perform some tasks well, because you’ve never learned, you’re not qualified or you’re just not good at certain things.
Experience weaknesses simply mean you haven’t had enough exposure to certain situations, roles or industries.
You can build these over time, but early in your leadership career, these may be a common leadership weakness.
Weaknesses regarding personal traits involve aspects such as being introverted 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!
Many workplaces have different cultures and ways of working, so you may fit right into a place even if you struggled in a different one.
Knowledge weaknesses indicate a lack of understanding in a given area. These may also 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 counts!
Next, let’s look at some of the benefits of understanding your own leadership weaknesses.
Learn More: Thoughtful Leader Podcast #90: Beating Leadership Imposter Syndrome.
1. Use Your Leadership Weaknesses to Build the Right Team
An advantage of understanding your leadership weaknesses is that you can gather 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 in the team to cover the gaps.
2. Use Your Leadership Weaknesses to Provide Opportunities for Others
You can also use your leadership weaknesses to provide opportunities for others to shine.
If you have a shortfall in a certain area that somebody in your team is interested in, this is a perfect opportunity to delegate accountability for the task or function.
Not only can you cover your own shortcomings, 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 accountable for everything in your team.
And you don’t need to be the best at it either. You should try to be best at leading, not doing all the work.
Learn More: Risk & Reward: How to Provide Development Opportunities For Your Team.
3. Use Your Leadership Weaknesses 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 business change.
During your planning, you can create 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 strengths and weaknesses. There are almost always multiple ways to implement change, so you should look for ways that work to your advantage.
Essentially what this means is you can plan ahead to use the capabilities in your team to their maximum effect.
Learn More: 5 Critical Strategic Skills All Leaders Need.
4. Use Your Weaknesses to Build Relationships
People like leaders who are confident, but are humble enough to also be open about their limitations. Understanding your leadership weaknesses allows you to build relationships by asking others around you for their help.
However, acknowledging your shortcomings and asking for help can be confronting for some leaders.
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.
Once we let go of our insecurities and admit that we don’t know everything, great things can happen.
Learn More: Got a Case of Leadership Imposter Syndrome? Try This.
5. Use Your Leadership Weaknesses to Help You Improve
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 faults 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.
The point is, having awareness of where you need to improve can be a great way to keep yourself motivated and push yourself out of your comfort zone. This is where you’ll experience the most progress!
Learn More: 5 Reasons Smart Leaders Keep Chasing Team Improvement.
How Do You Know When You Should Work on Your Weak Points?
This is a simple statement I use to decide whether I need to focus on fixing my leadership weaknesses:
“If my leadership weaknesses are bothering me, causing me distress or problems in my role or career, I need to work on them.”
A personal example is my previous fear of public speaking. Years ago, I was terrified of speaking in front of others. My hands and voice shook and I would stammer and say “um” an awful lot.
I was terrible.
As my career progressed, I realised that this was going to 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 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.
This turned out to be one of the best things I could have done for my career, and I’ve never looked back.
Not Sure Whether to Work On Your Weaknesses? Try This
Sometimes it can be daunting to try to work on your flaws. You might not be sure that you really need to.
In these cases, I ask myself the following coaching questions:
- What is the impact if I don’t take action to improve this leadership weakness?
- Why am I holding onto this weakness? There must be something in it for me to stay the same – what is it?
Try these for yourself. If you’re honest and open with your answers, you might find the answer you need.
Weaknesses in leadership are not something to be feared. They are something to be used to your advantage!
The first step is understanding what yours are, so you can improve the way you lead and improve your team at the same time.
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