I am an introvert.
Verbal deliberations, discussion without data – these are something I try to avoid.
I find it instead much easier to put the issue in writing, the associated points, and work from there.
As I went up the corporate ladder, meetings and conference calls – activities where I don’t thrive – became inevitable.
I can’t pinpoint when, but gradually I started relying on my writing for help. Before most meetings and con-calls, I would send an email to all, putting the issue in perspective.
These lengthy emails might seem strenuous to you, but for me – they were easy. These emails helped me – and I think others too – to have time-efficient discussions.
As I read for this article, I realise what I had done then – I was using my strengths to manage my weakness.
This article is based on the following 3 books:
First, Break All the Rules – by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman (1997)
Now, Discover your Strengths – by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton (2001)
Go Put your Strengths to Work – by Marcus Buckingham (2007)
First the principle, and then 8 strategies on how to manage your weakness at work.
1. You will grow the most – at work, and in your personal life – when you play to your strengths.
2. Manage – don’t get obsessed with overcoming – your weaknesses.
As per the authors, our strengths are a combination of what we are born with (genes) AND what we go through in the first 15-odd years of our lives.
All this shapes us into the unique person we are.
The rest of the life – the pace and pressure therein – means we continue to rely on these specific strengths to bail us out in every situation. This in turn, leads to our strengths getting more and more ingrained in our psyche.
This is also the reason why acquiring new strengths (overcoming our weaknesses) is hard.
How to ‘manage’ your weakness then?
The following 8 strategies are what I understood from reading the 3 books:
1. Identify the weakness
The first step is to identify the weakness. Is the weakness – a skill weakness, a knowledge weakness or a talent weakness?
An Example (of a Nurse)
Skill is : How to give an Injection?
Knowledge is : What injection dose to give, what precautions to take, when giving to a 65-year-old person suffering from asthma?
Talent is : How to reassure (empathy) the anxious patient while giving the injection?
All 3 combined, help the nurse to deliver a painless experience to the patient.
Of the 3, Skill and Knowledge are fairly easy to acquire. With necessary training and experience you will gain the same.
Talent (empathy, assertiveness, strategic thinker, etc.) however is difficult to acquire. If you are short on it – and the job requires that specific talent – you will be better off learning how to manage its lack.
2. Stop doing the activity
One suggestion is to just stop doing the activity where you are weak. And see if anyone notices.
There is no – should-be-doing, ought-to, required-to-do – in any job.
Marcus gives the example of Heidi, Head of Brand Management in a top hotel group. Her job required her to call hotels that had a high number of complaints and low customer score. She found some hotels were just not responsive. So she stopped calling them – as talking to them depressed her.
She checked after a couple of months – and even though she had stopped calling – things didn’t worsen. These specific hotels stayed where they were on the customer score.
3. Acquire the minimum in that specific weakness
At one time, I had fear of public speaking.
I joined Toastmasters for the same. Diligently went for 5 Sundays, gave my speech on the 6th Sunday – and since then have not attended another session.
I might not be excellent, not even be good, but I am okay with the bare minimum. The fear of public speaking is gone – that was my only intention in joining Toastmasters.
Another way you can acquire the minimum, is to expose yourself to the relevant book, blog, magazine, movie, etc.
I remember when The Times of India launched The Speaking Tree, an 8-page Sunday-only paper on physical and mental well-being, I subscribed to it from the first issue itself.
Each issue comes with articles on stress-management, patience, etc. Read over long time – over weeks, months and a year – and it sure will help to fortify areas one is weak at.
4. Use your strengths to balance your weakness
Go through your strengths, and see how they can help where you are weak.
The opening example – how my writing helped me in meetings & conference-calls – will fall into this category.
5. Design a support ritual
We practice these all the time.
– To treat our weak eyesight – we take help of spectacles.
– To ensure we pursue an Issue to closure – many of us leave the last email on an unread mode.
A more detailed example
Years back, on merger of departments, I came to have a high-level strategic thinking boss.
Interacting with him was ego-deflating.
It so used to happen, when I was thinking A, B, C, the boss was into J, K, L. When I voiced options, he had already thought through their implications. In short, he was way ahead of me, on any subject.
I was conscious of the gap – it was hurting my ego. But I was determined.
The opportunity soon came, in the form of a regulatory directive mandating a thorough audit of our line of business.
Prior to the meeting the boss had called – I put in a dedicated one hour to think through on all aspects.
As the meeting progressed, I highlighted things that neither the boss, nor the audit firm, nor other managers had thought of.
I felt good.
But more than that, I had my eureka moment:
Going forward, before I get into any interaction with this strategic-thinking boss, I need to diligently think through 30 minutes on the issue.
This became my support ritual.
6. Find a Partner
The book has example of Heidi (also referred in point 2 above.)
In her earlier stint as General Manager with the hotel chain, Heidi was also required to get new accounts. Heidi hated making cold calls. So she asked her Assistant Manager, who loved closing deals.
The Assistant Manager took over her sales quota, in exchange for the paperwork which he loathed, and which Heidi gladly took over.
I moved to the BPO division of the bank on a promotion. With this, the number of products whose operations I managed increased from 1 to 5.
All around there were respective product, sales, and process people, all pushing operations (my team) to take more and more – some valid, some not-so valid requests.
And therein my weakness became evident – I just don’t have a stomach for confrontation. To add to it, my proactive, solution-oriented nature meant I was often in conflict with myself when pushing back, and saying, “No.”
I soon realised my deputies were much better than me at fighting back. So I started taking them to the meetings. If they raised objections to a proposal, it meant a red flag for me.
My deputies became my partners in more sense than one.
7. Talk to your Boss
In the third book, Go Put Your Strengths to Work, Marcus spends considerable time on this point; the nuances of approach, what exactly to say to boss, etc.
The gist is to have a frank discussion with boss – and let the boss too realise – you will be a more productive and happy employee if the job is tweaked to play to your strengths. (Of course, you will have to suggest the how to’s.)
8. Change Job
This should be the last option, as no job is perfect. Every job will require you to do things where you are weak.
But if you have reached this conclusion, Marcus suggests an innovative way to decipher if the next job is what you are looking for.
Typical questions people ask themselves when searching for the dream job:
A. (The What) What is the fundamental purpose of the role? Do I have appetite for the role, and does that excite me?
B. (The Whom) Who are the kinds of people I will be working with?
C. (The How) What are the specific activities that will fill my week?
As per Marcus, people focus on A & B question. Instead it is the C which is the most important. C will determine if you will be happy and successful in the job.
Paula, an executive-editor of a successful women’s magazine, was offered the role of editor-in-chief (a promotion).
Her current role required her to interact with writers and sub-editors, crafting better articles – which she enjoyed.
As editor-in-chief, she would be required to attend PR events, conferences, hobnob in awards function – things she didn’t look forward to.
Paula turned down the promotion.
The Big Picture
Often when we say – we are burnt-out, don’t feel like coming to work, wish I had another job – it isn’t that the entire job is corrupted.
It is only some specific activities – activities which call upon our weaknesses – that leave us depressed and drained.
Manage them, and you will have a happy and successful career.
1. While the first 2 books – First, Break All the Rules and Now, Discover Your Strengths are well-known and million-copy best sellers, I found the third book – Go Put Your Strengths to Work – to most reflect the corporate world.
2. You will have a fair idea of what you are good at, and where you are not.
In case you don’t, Marcus suggests, for the week gone by at work, list down the activities you enjoyed, and what you didn’t. This will help you to understand your strengths and weaknesses.
Anil Karamchandani is a Mumbai-based former manager.
He is author of 21 Office Situations & How to Deal with Them available on Amazon.in.