Episode 11

#011 - Focus on Developing Your Strengths, Not Your Weaknesses

Published on: 19th October, 2020

In today's episode we discuss why investing in your strengths is way better than focusing on your weaknesses for long term career success, and the one instance where that approach breaks down.

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Robert Greiner 0:01

Welcome to the Wanna Grab Coffee podcast. In today's episode, Charles, Igor, and I discuss why investing in your strengths is a better career strategy than focusing on your weaknesses, and the one instance where that approach breaks down. Thanks for joining us today. And don't forget to subscribe and drop us a line if you enjoyed the episode. Hey guys, how's it going?

Charles Knight 0:22

What's up?

Igor Geyfman 0:23

Hey, what's going on? Robert?

Robert Greiner 0:25

Good to see you.

Igor Geyfman 0:26

Good to see y'all.

Robert Greiner 0:28

Let's talk about strengths and weaknesses today, which we all have in abundance, some of us more than others? Is it better to focus on your strengths, lean into those and really level them up? And that's what you're known for? And just kind of ride that positive wave? Or is it more advantageous for your time and energy to be spent fixing your soft spots, and becoming a little bit more well rounded, and ultimately not messing up to the degree that you might have if you if you didn't focus in a specific area? So that's the thing are we are we trying to get really big wins, and stumble and fall on our faces at times? Are we trying to be have a little bit more balanced and well rounded? performance? So I don't know the right answer. That's why I'm asking you guys. So Igor, what do you think, man?

Igor Geyfman 1:25

Well, I wanted to, to ask the two of y'all about maybe the definition of a strength, and the way that I started to think about what might be considered a strength and what might be considered a weakness. And I think for the longest time, when I thought about a strength, I said, strength is something that you're good at. When I was a kid, I was very good at drawing. So you could say, drawing was a strength of mine. And I think, as I've progressed, my thinking on what a strength is, I've shifted, and it doesn't mean it's the right shift. And that's what I want to get your opinion on. And to me, what you're good at, that's not a strength, that's an ability. And sometimes your strength and your ability align, a lot of times they do, right. And it's because of what I think the real definition of strength is. And a strength is an activity that makes you feel strong. And sometimes the activity that makes you feel strong, is also an activity that you're good at. Because if you're doing something that makes you feel strong, it creates a self reinforcing cycle. And you tend to get better at it over time. Right? This makes me feel stronger, I do it more, the more I do it, the better I get at it. And but but they're not the same thing. And so that's sort of my evolving definition of strength. But I don't know if that's the right way to think about it. So I'd love to get your your thoughts before we get into why you should focus on what we're referring to as strength. Yeah, how do you how do you feel about those two distinctions?

Robert Greiner 3:09

You know, it's interesting that you bring that up, because when you ask the question, I immediately went to, well, it's something you're good at. And then I thought, well, you probably wouldn't be asking that question if it was that easy. And so I thought about behaviors in a professional setting. So we say this a lot. It's like, Hey, I don't care. If you think the person you're working with is an idiot. I don't care if you go home and complain about a co-worker with your spouse. It's really about what behaviors you manifest in the moment that matter. And those behaviors lead to outcomes in a sort of cause and effect way. And so I like the idea of activities that make you feel strong or behaviors that lead to appreciative accretive outcomes as a way to measure strengths instead of just ability because maybe your right ability could be a little bit of a naive or unsophisticated way to think about strengths.

Charles Knight 4:09

Charles, what do you think? I think we're overthinking it. But I do love these sorts of things. I think the only thing that I will add for consideration, there's no right or wrong answer, is that I think when I think about strengths, they come naturally to me, whether it's an ability, a talent, a skill, whatever it is, to me, there's an ease about it doesn't require a lot of energy and effort to do, it's just there.

Igor Geyfman 4:42

Charles, can I dig in on that with you?

Charles Knight 4:45

Mm hmm. Sure.

Igor Geyfman 4:47

Let's let's go through just the Charles example. So what's what's a Charles strength?

Charles Knight 4:54

For me, I think one of my strengths is that I can connect seemingly disconnected things in interesting ways. Like I could just see things that are disparate that other people are like, I don't I don't see how these things connect to sicko that connect in this way. But I would say that's a strength of mine.

Igor Geyfman 5:14

So let's take that. And I agree I've seen it. Let's go through the two litmus test questions. Is that an activity that you're good at?

Charles Knight 5:24


Igor Geyfman 5:25

Yes, you think so? And is, is that an activity that makes you feel strong when you do it?

Charles Knight 5:31

Yeah. You know, when you said that before, it was interesting, because I, when I think of strong I think of physical strength. I'm not sure I'm, I'm kind of neutral on that one.

Igor Geyfman 5:45

Yeah. And maybe we're not thinking about physical strength. Maybe a better word is something like invigorated or energized.

Charles Knight 5:54

Yes. Absolutely. Yeah. To those Yes. Yeah, absolutely. It's energy bringing. uplifting. Yeah.

Igor Geyfman 6:01

And, and let's go back. Do you remember a time when you weren't good at it? Like, let's go back to when Charles was a small child, a cute little Chuck, running around. You had a bowl cut? At some point, I'm sure of it. But let's go back in time, do you remember a time when you weren't good at connecting those things in the way that you think about it now?

Charles Knight 6:31

For that particular one? I'm not sure. I would say if I was good at it, if that was a strength of mine. I'm not sure I was consciously aware of it, which I think would be my answer.

Igor Geyfman 6:45

That particular strength usually gets discouraged.

Charles Knight 6:48


Igor Geyfman 6:48

As a child, usually when you're connecting things that are not obvious together as a kid, most parents will usually correct their their child and say, oh, that doesn't make sense. Why would you connect those two things. And so as a free thinking child, you have to persevere past your parents of you talking nonsense. Because they just don't get yet right. I'm just curious. And it goes back to maybe another discussion for another episode about things that we feel are innate talents, or strengths or abilities, versus things that come to us over time through practice?

Charles Knight 7:27

Well, on not on that particular thing. Although I think it is a strength of mine. Now, it is something that I deliberately practice.

Robert Greiner 7:35

Well, that was part of the initial discussion, which is it's a strength of yours, it invigorates you, it gives you energy, and you are known for that skill. So we might bucket that skill as systems thinking, or the ability to architect interesting solutions for complex problems. That's very much baked into how people perceive you within our company. And so you are actively investing in building out a skill becoming world class at a skill that you perceive as a strength and those around you perceive as a strength. So you are definitely in a virtuous cycle when it comes to systems thinking.

Igor Geyfman 8:16

I do want to talk about maybe the the opposite situation, what is weakness. And so is weakness, being bad at something, or is weakness, something that makes you feel weak when you do it. Something that drains energy, something that's not invigorating. But generally, we think like something that you're good at, or something that gives you energy is normally related to a strength. And there's this concept, I think it's pretty common. You should be a well rounded person. And to be a well rounded person, a lot of times what that means is addressing your weaknesses. Well rounded doesn't mean amazing at one thing. It means being fairly good at a lot of things. And I think that drive, or the advice to be a well rounded person. That's what might drive people to focus on addressing their weaknesses. Because that's what rounds you out. But, I think the three of us have a different approach to that may common advice. What do you think Charles?

Charles Knight 9:34

The first thing that popped into my mind was no, it doesn't mean you're bad. It's just you're not meeting expectations. Especially in our world, when we talk about like talent development, it's like, oh, no people are perceived to be weak if they are not meeting expectations of them that have been placed upon them.

Igor Geyfman 9:54

Now, I think what you said here, especially around causing harm, is a really important point to this idea of focusing on strengths. You know, our energy is finite, as we apply it to different facets of our lives. And you know, I personally find a de-energizing for somebody to say you're weak at something, you need to fix that. Go fix yourself, Igor. And here's what you need to work on. And if that same sentiment is reframed around, growing, and being better, and not a value judgment of me being bad. It, it helps me bring a different type of energy to resolving that, to listening to that feedback. And, it's because it avoids doing harm. Right, doing harm, I think prevents people from engaging in productive activity. Anyway, I don't want to take us too far off, I'd like to hear about, you know, Robert, in your coaching, how do you handle suggesting strengths for people to develop rather than weaknesses?

Robert Greiner:

Yes, so the idea around an individual's impact, I think really gets magnified when you to use a sports analogy, you have a home run hitter, that consistently just absolutely crushes the ball, hits home runs. You can change the the nature of a game, or a series of playoff series with one swing of the bat, that's very impactful. Those are the people whose names are remembered who have who are in the newspaper or things like that. And, maybe they can't feel very well, or run very fast. But they're really, really good at this one thing, and you can deploy them in that one situation. And so you might not want them spending time doing running exercises, when they could eke out a better, like home run or slugging percentage.

Igor Geyfman:

Is that like the Babe Ruth approach, like, Hey, man, you don't need to work on your physical conditioning, just make sure that you you really connect with that ball when it comes across the plate.

Robert Greiner:

Yeah, and if you're hitting homeruns, whenever you're needed, whenever you're called upon, then that's a great thing to do. And if you are not the type of person that can hit home runs, then maybe you need to be really good at fielding, or really good as the leadoff hitter so you can get yourself on base. When the home run hitter comes up. There's a tremendous amount of diversity of skills needed to run a baseball team. And that's a very fairly static and fixed sport. It's finite, right? It's very known. But if you if you go into life, or into work, that the magnification of the little skills that you need to build to contribute to something bigger than yourself. Just think about like the iPhone, you have in your pocket, how many dozens and hundreds of people with wildly varying skill sets contributed to that little piece of technology. And if everybody is bringing their best, their strengths to that effort, then you're going to get a much better product overall. And so when you're in an organization, when you're on a team, deploying your strengths, leveling up your strengths, growing in that area, seems to be an optimal approach, versus leveling up your weaknesses, which maybe someone else can cover. So for instance, I'm not very detail oriented. I try to surround myself with people who sweat the details. And that way, I'm not to your point, expending energy trying to do something that I'm not great at, that I don't enjoy, that doesn't give me energy, and that I'm not, I would end up missing something anyway. But I really like building teams. And so if I can build teams with those types of skills on it, then that just makes everything smoother, moving forward.

Igor Geyfman:

And that person that sweats the details, loves to sweat the details.

Robert Greiner:

Yes, that's absolutely right.

Igor Geyfman:

Like that is that is something that makes them feel strong.

Robert Greiner:

And and I think they really like the idea of creating order out of chaos, in the same way that I like that sort of drama competitive relationship pushing forward side. And so yeah, when you have that diversity of skills, when you have the people who can push on both sides, then the team as a whole is greater than that the sum of its parts.

Igor Geyfman:

Robert, what's your like your favorite sport? Like what sport do you know the most about is like baseball, soccer, football. Hockey. I don't know much about hockey but maybe I'll ask you questions here because this is a thought experiment, and we're gonna do it live. All right, who is the best all time? goal scorer? Is that the right term? I don't know if that's the right term.

Robert Greiner:

Wayne Gretzky,

Igor Geyfman:

Wayne Wayne Gretzky shot on shot on target.

Robert Greiner:


Igor Geyfman:

You would take Wayne Gretzky over over anyone else. Like if you're building a dream team?

Yes. first pick.

First pick. Alright, who who is the best goalie of all time?

Robert Greiner:

Well, that's an interesting question. I played goalie. So I have a little bit more of an affinity for goaltenders. And I really like Martin Brodeur. He was very aggressive. They had to change part of the the rules of the game, because he was such a good stick handler, he would go out and basically be another defenseman and be able to create plays and create offense and stymie the other team, because of how he moved around outside of the crease. Right. So we talked about interesting strengths, like he really played to that ability and changed the game. So we could bicker about that one. But for me, Martin Brodeur.

Igor Geyfman:

And then the third one, what hockey player had the best overall physical conditioning and athleticism?

Robert Greiner:

That's a hard one. I mean, they're all pretty fit. So you could take your pick of any one of the great.

Igor Geyfman:

To me, I think I was just testing my theory out. Right. And I wanted to talk about things that are normally spiky, and then talk about things that are normally well rounded.

Robert Greiner:

Well, okay, so I will say that really killer athletes in every sport, their athleticism and the quantitative scores that they achieve while they're getting ready to be drafted, does not really correlate to on field, on ice performance. So there have been some phenomenal athletes that were just terrible when it came to that the next level, the pace of the game, the anticipation that came to it, not being able to handle the pressure. And so there, the baseline athleticism is certainly just table stakes. But you do get a level of diminishing returns based on that athleticism. Malcolm Gladwell talks about that, where you know that there's a tall enough basketball player, for instance, once you hit a certain height, you get diminishing returns every inch above that, that you are. And so it's not easy to just say, Oh, this person's eight and a half feet, they're going to be a killer basketball player. There's so much more to it. And there is such a thing as tall enough in NBA. There would be such a thing as fit enough for ice hockey.

Igor Geyfman:

You know, so if I'm a forward on the hockey team, do I work on my athleticism? Or do I work on my, you know, shot on target, like accuracy?

Robert Greiner:

Well, that depends on what role you play. So certainly there are the ones that kind of go in first and try to chase down and hunt down the people the defenders that have the puck, there are playmakers who hold on to the puck, wait until their teammates are in scoring position and do very creative things to get them the puck, but you really can't rely on them to score at all. There are some really beefy, aggressive players that just plant themselves right in front of the goalie and try to create ruckus and mayhem and then there are snipers who absolutely can just place the puck anywhere they want. And they're the the natural goal scorers who have a phenomenal shot, and can make these really tight angle shots that you wouldn't think were possible. And so that the idea of being forward breaks down into several different components. And even you might stick a Ford out there that protects your your hot shot goalscorer and so they're just more of a kind of an enforcer or protector or someone to just distract or get in the heads of people on the other team. So it's it's a very broad set of skills that you would need and when you and I think maybe this is the point you're getting to, when you look at a player, you know what niche what role they fill, they very rarely span multiple roles.

Charles Knight:

This actually what I wanted to chime in on because, we're talking I'm not a sports fan at all. I have enjoyed the conversation. But when I think about the difference between sports and life and and our work we always fill both multiple roles. Like we never have just one specialization. And, my belief is that there's books written about this too. I haven't read them. But we get asked a lot about is it more valuable to be a specialist or generalist? To be really spiky or well rounded? And those those are descriptions of, do you have one really, really strong strength? Or do you have, kind of mediocre strengths spread out? I guess. It's probably a terrible metaphor. But I think you all have heard this phrase, and jack of all trades, master of none. Yeah, that I came across a kind of a different phrase, jack of all trades, master of one, I don't remember where where I, I heard that before, but that resonates with me because to me, that's a, hey, you should develop yourself, you know, whatever your strengths are, to its fullest potential in your lifetime and become a master. And in doing that, it has spillover effects to other areas that maybe aren't your absolute, you know, strongest strengths. And when we talk about well roundedness, I think the world for a variety of reasons, needs more people who can look across disciplines, who can straddle and multiple roles, hold seemingly paradoxical things in their head and not have their brain explode. And you know, when I have somebody come and ask me, like, hey, what should I focus on developing? I'm reminded of this. Master something, and use that to get stronger in other areas? And I don't know, does that does that jive with y'alls feedback to to people who ask you for advice?

Robert Greiner:

Yeah, it certainly does. And Charles will just piggyback off of your example. So you are really leaning into systems thinking, you're intentionally growing that skill. You've had career success around it. If those really great ideas are just in your head, and you cannot express them in a way others can understand and get on board with. It's not worth having the idea anyway, it's as if you didn't even have it. And so you have had to level up. And maybe this is something that you've connected the dots and didn't realize it, maybe you've thought about this, and we're intentional, but your business writing, storytelling, those kind of components that you have also intentionally leveled up, are accretive to your ability to be a systems thinker. And so yeah, I think that definitely, but but you level them up just good enough. Right? You're not trying to be world class at that too, in the same way that you are systems thinking. And so yeah, I think that definitely resonates.

Igor Geyfman:

And Charles, I think you have a really interesting approach to addressing, let's call it a weakness. And it's something that I experienced, we were working together, and I was working for you at this client. And your advice to me, was using a strength that I have to address a weakness that I have. To use things that invigorated me that make me feel strong, to resolve things that are energy draining. And that was really powerful for me to be on the on the recipient end of that advice. He talked to me more about, you know, that approach that you have, and, and how you came about using it with folks.

Charles Knight:

Yeah. I don't remember doing that with Igor.

Igor Geyfman:

Yeah, we were sitting, it's back when we're still in the office, pre pandemic, and we're in that room Pegasus, you know, that doesn't really have any windows, really small and cramped, has that TV. And, and we're discussing a situation at the client, and how I should approach the next six months. And, and that's the advice that you gave me. And that really stuck with me and it really helped me out for that time period.

Charles Knight:

Yeah. Well, it's, it's a little strange because when I think about myself, like in developing myself, I have always appreciated mentors who pointed out my weakness. Very directly and bluntly, the more direct and blunt, the better. I don't know what that says about me. But I've been motivated to, if a weakness is exposed to strengthen it up, but I take the absolute opposite approach when dealing with others. Maybe because I've seen over time how encouraging people to lean into their strengths and use their strengths to overcome perceived weakness. I don't think people are inherently weak, I think there's a perception that there's weakness. I've seen the energy that that comes along with that. Right? There's, there's positive momentum that comes out of those conversations. That, if you apply the opposite, it's just really a drag, you know, no one likes to be told what they're doing wrong, and that they need to be better. It's like that, that's a path to shame and guilt, for doing the wrong things or not being good enough. And those are very, very powerful demotivating demoralizing forces. And it's, acknowledging people's strength, and helping them see how they can use them to cover off on growth areas. That's one of those dots that I connect, that maybe that's a superpower of mine, when I think about what am I mastering in my career? It's systems thinking, to be a better architects, and it's coaching and developing and mentoring people. And so I've used that approach, because I think it works. It just works really well for the people that I've, I've talked to, and I think it does come back to motivation, right? Developing in your strengths is easy, because it gives you energy, shoring up a weakness requires energy. And would you rather start off in a deficit? Because you're told that you're doing something wrong? And that you suck at it? Or would you like a little boost, and a little bit of encouragement to do the hard work necessary to improve in areas that you know, you need to improve? And I choose the latter, because I want to put kind of good energy into the world, I guess.

Igor Geyfman:

Yeah, that totally makes sense to me. And, you know, we, we have these five personas that we talk about when we talk about coaching people, and it's the player coach, the leader, the architect, the advisor, and the professional. And, and your specific advice to me was to use my strength in coaching, to help me work through things in my leader persona. And so that's how you framed it. And so it was, it was really powerful for me. So you know, we're focusing on strengths, where, I've always heard this idea of like t shaped individuals, where you have a core pillar, your spike, your big strength, and then, you know, you grow your other areas, and then you create these yourself as a T-shaped individual. But there's particular instances where just focusing on your strengths, is not enough. Robert, I know you have a really good point of view on that. So could you talk about like, there's a situation where it's like, you can't just focus on your strengths.

Robert Greiner:

Yes. So for 80% of the people, 80% of the time, leveling up your strengths is the way to go. When it's not the way to go is when you have a let's call it deficit or growth area that is so impactful in your role in that moment, that you are causing harm to others, and that is overshadowing anything good that you could do. So one example that I'll use and before I go into that, Marshall Goldsmith has a really good book called "What got you here, won't get you there", which talks about that in depth, and he'll go even so far to say and I wholeheartedly believe this, there are behaviors that you manifest in your career, that are kind of quirky and cute, and create a little bit of flavor or personality around what you bring to the table and are self-reinforcing to get you promoted to help with career advancement. And then at some point, it will hit you in that behaviors are detracting. So one example is like always having the answer as an individual contributor. If you're the smartest one on the team, you're always solving the hard problem, you're always coming up with a solution. Everyone comes to you when they have a question. That's great. That's a really good way to grow career and get promoted. But if you're a CEO of an organization, and you want to have the answer, or you want to have an opinion, and now what you say maybe even just as a suggestion, it's taken way, way too seriously. And people go completely in the direction of what you suggested when you were just trying to brainstorm. And so I think you definitely have to think about if you're in a, what got you here won't get you there moment for me. One that hit me really hard was we talked about humor in the past, that's a strength of mine, ever since the second grade, I feel like I've been using humor to lighten up situations and help people get along better and things like that. When you have role power, and as a manager, or a director or vice president, CEO, whatever. And you use humor at the expense of those that report to you. That's a really bad look, that can be catastrophic on your team. It's not cool when your boss comes to you, and makes fun of your shirt, or makes fun of your spelling, or something stupid that you said. And I didn't understand that when I was early on in my leadership career. And luckily, someone who really cares about me sat me down and said, Hey, this thing you said over here, that was not cool. Like you really hurt this guy's feelings. And I had to go make that right and really adjust my style where and now it's more of a self deprecating, so I tend to point the humor back in on myself, and so that I still get the same effect. But I'm scared, really frightened of accidentally making someone feel terrible, because I created some humor at their expense. And so for me, that was definitely what got you here won't get you there moment. And I'm glad that I caught it early and was able to make adjustments. But, that's definitely something to think about where leaning into a strength makes no sense. If you're tearing down the world around you, creating negative outcomes, and it doesn't matter. The debt that you're creating in the system cannot be paid down with the winds that you're creating. And ultimately, you're you're heading downhill.

Igor Geyfman:

Yeah, thanks. Thanks, Robert. It's really important, because you are going to have those moments where it's just crucial for you to resolve that. And, you don't have a lot of time. And thanks, thanks for sharing that story, you shared a lot of vulnerability there. So I appreciate you doing that. Yeah, for sure. Charles, any thoughts on like, dire situations that require a focus on weakness? Or would you kind of just hold like, well, we'll reframe it and still focus on your strengths.

Charles Knight:

No, I think there's, there's certainly a time and place to, to call out, professionally detracting behavior. It's, if you if your temper is so short, like you lack the emotional regulation to stop yourself from yelling at your team, that is not a, how do we leverage your strength to overcome this thing? It's like, no, that's like, fix that. Stop that, or you're out. I mean, it and I think the going back to maybe what we talked about, at the beginning, there's a degree of harm that has to be assessed, and if there's a potential for somebody's behavior, or words or actions to cause harm those things as a leader, it's our responsibility to point those things out directly, clearly, in a professional way. And to make it clear that those things are not acceptable, and that they have to be remediated. And that is, that's our responsibility. You know, we can't shy away from those sorts of difficult conversations.

Robert Greiner:

Marshall Goldsmith would would agree with you in in the book, there's 20 habits that you are sort of classified as that what got you here won't get you their buckets. And he said, there's probably only three or four at any given point in your career that are really impacting you. And even then, you might not be so bad at them for expressing the negative side of those behaviors so much that it really matters right now. And so in that, just like what you said, Charles, when that's the case, though, you have to jump on it quickly because you cannot let that those negative detracting behaviors turn into a bad habit for the role that you're in. On the other side, if you have these quirks, working on them slowly while leaning in on your strengths, like we talked about before, probably still makes sense. But once you cross that threshold, then you really need to focus on shoring up the weakness side of the equation. And that's where feedback comes in and is so valuable from your team, from your peers, from your leaders, you really have to create the feedback loops necessary to know where you stand. Otherwise, you'll be a completely unaware.

Igor Geyfman:

I really appreciate the discussion. I know we wanted to talk about strengths based coaching. I'd love to hear other perspectives to the question that we posed at the beginning around is strength, something that you're really good at? Is it something that makes you feel strong? Or is it something that's not either of those things? You know, how do you define strengths? And I'd love to get more perspectives on that because I'm still trying to understand and have a better definition for myself. So, I'm really grateful that you engage with me today, and we could talk about it.

Robert Greiner:

Yeah, likewise.

Charles Knight:

Absolutely. A lot of fun, as usual.

Igor Geyfman:

Thanks, y'all.

Robert Greiner:

Thank you, have a good one. Bye. That's it for today. Thanks for listening. And don't forget to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform and follow us on Twitter at Wanna Grab Coffee. If you have a question or comment and want to reach out directly drop us a line at [email protected].

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