Harness weaknesses, not just strengths for better leadership

By Tom Rose, Executive Coach
Self-described introvert Tom Rose, who spent 20 years in senior leadership roles at Global Fortune 500 firms, on pinpointing your strengths and weaknesses

In preparing for a job interview, we easily list our many strengths but have a much harder time finding the single weakness that will present us in the best light. In private, though, most of us have no problem listing ten areas where we can improve.

When asked to list the strengths of someone we admire, they flow like a waterfall. But when asked about ourselves, we find it easier to point out our shortcomings. 

Our strengths and weaknesses are on full display for others to see. The view from the inside out, though, is far less clear and obscured by a blizzard of personal values, beliefs, emotions, and the environment we operate in. 

Opening ourselves up to see and accept an unobstructed view of our true strengths and weaknesses requires courage, honesty, and humility. If it were easy, everyone would do it.

Before proceeding, understand your motivation, as it is likely to determine how deeply you are willing to dive. Best case, you recognise the personal and professional benefits of deepening your self-awareness of which there are many. To name a few of the benefits:

  • Increased confidence from knowing where you’re strong and when to observe, listen, and learn.
  • Tailored and focused personal learning & development direction.
  • Seen as being authentic, relatable and credible.
  • Know what you can expect in a variety of situations and environments.
  • Appreciating feedback gets you in the conversation, not outside wondering what is being said.
  • Career growth. Not only will your skills develop faster but your behaviour will also be recognised.

The ground has shifted beneath our feet​​​​​​​

In a twist of irony, our society has long valued strength and a ‘never let them see you sweat’ mentality. Vulnerability and authenticity, however, are now more often referred to as virtuous and sought-after leadership characteristics. Appreciating and understanding our true strengths and weaknesses is now seen as a source of strength and growth.

Most of us believe that we are already aware of our strengths and weaknesses. While we are quick to credit ourselves as being self-aware the data does not support that notion. The Harvard Business Review recently reported that 95% of us believe that we are self-aware but only 15% truly are. 

Self-awareness means knowing who we are and how we are seen by others. Our self-view is influenced by our values, beliefs, personalities, circumstances, and cultural standards. We can be both our own best cheerleaders and our own harshest critics. 

What we value drives what we believe to be true. Our values and beliefs drive our emotions, and our emotions drive our behaviour. 

A valuable exercise is to whittle down a long list of personal values to those that are most meaningful to you. Work from 200 down to 20. Then cut it to eight, and then to the three that you are willing to stand up to the world to defend. 

Having explored our values and beliefs, our Personality is the engine driving how we behave, view the world, and how others see us. Peeling back the onion on our personalities is where the rubber meets the road. 

In the early 1900’s there were 1600 adjectives used to understand personality. Today, there are five central descriptors of personality known as ‘The Big 5’. They include:

  1. Openness: Willingness to seek new experiences versus staying in the familiar.
  2. Conscientiousness: Level of attention to detail, planning.
  3. Extraversion: Level of interaction with the outside world that we are most comfortable with.
  4. Agreeableness: How interested we are in the needs of others.
  5. Neuroticism: Our disposition toward worrying and anxiety.

Of these five, one’s level of extraversion is recognised as the most powerful indicator of well-being, happiness, and success. 

Extraversion sits on one extreme pole of the continuum, with introversion at the opposite pole. We are each most comfortable in a specific spot somewhere between the poles, and this changes very little over our lifetime. 

No one is purely an extravert or an introvert, and each of us uses both tendencies many times each day. As Carl Jung, the father of analytical psychology said, the only place you will find a pure extravert or introvert is in an insane asylum.

Lastly, your personal circumstances and cultural standards must be considered in order to best apply all you’ve learned in your journey of self-understanding. Understanding the context of your preferences and tendencies comes from appreciating your situation and environment. 

And finally, understanding your strengths and weaknesses 

Pinpointing your strengths and weaknesses requires three sources of information. 

1. Yourself; building on the progress you’ve made up to now, you’ll want to incorporate what you learn from the next two sources of input. 

2. Other people who are familiar with you; whether through formal processes such as 360 feedback work, hallway feedback, or annual performance reviews, you need to proactively seek their feedback. Expect this to be uncomfortable at first, but the payoff can be enormous.

3. Tools; there is no shortage of invaluable assessment tools such as Myers-Briggs, Type Emotional Intelligence, Gallup Strengthsfinder, FIRO B, Ipersonic, PrinciplesYou, and tools for every topic. Best case, you have a qualified administrator who fully understands the most appropriate tools and can explain the findings professionally.

Understanding your strengths and weaknesses

Accessing the power of awareness is as much a mindset as it is a process. Listening, incorporating others feedback, and benefiting from the superior tools available requires a commendable openness and an attitude of continuous learning. 

Learning to pause and digest personal data points and incorporating them reflectively can be a game-changer to bolster your professional well-being, success, and happiness. Listen for the consistent themes, and don’t sweat the small stuff. Practice self-care and kindness, and do this in the pursuit of growth and not perfection. No one is perfect nor will they ever be.

In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, self-actualisation is our highest level of psychological development, where fulfilling our potential is fully realised. Enjoy the journey.


Tom has 64 years of experience being an introvert and underdog. He spent two decades working in senior leadership roles at Global Fortune 500 companies, across six continents, before discovering the source of his greatest professional satisfaction at a leadership retreat in 2007. His passion is helping others achieve their potential, beyond what they previously imagined possible. Tom has a master’s degree in Executive Coaching & Professional Development, three ICF accredited certifications in Professional Coaching, Leadership Coaching and Executive Coaching. To receive Tom’s eight-page guide of tips for having more fun, satisfaction, and success at work, as well as gaining access to other free career tools, visit his website here: https://tomrose.coach.



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