In today's article, I will talk about the following:
- Why do most people (PMs and others) focus on weaknesses and not strengths
- Why is focusing on weaknesses limiting your true potential
- Why should you focus on your strengths
- Why is focusing on your strengths important in product management
- How can I apply this in the real world as a product manager?
- Balancing strengths and weaknesses for optimal growth
Why do most people (PMs and others) focus on weaknesses and not strengths
Be it school grades or formal performance reviews at work -- if you do not perform well, your teachers, managers, and parents will invariably suggest you focus on "improving your weaknesses." The advice will remain the same even if you do well in other subjects or dimensions.
In these scenarios, you will probably forget all the A's you earned or all the times you exceeded expectations at work.
Unfortunately, this is the reality of life: we focus only on identifying and improving weaknesses in schools, workplaces, and life.
Society and the systems -- that we created to make ourselves better -- have conditioned us to believe that focusing on weaknesses (and not strengths) is the most significant opportunity to get better.
This happens even today. The only difference -- we now mask it with fancy words like - identifying skill gaps, working on areas of improvement, focusing on opportunity areas, etc.
Another reason, according to research, for us to like focusing on our weaknesses is that:
People perceive their weaknesses as more malleable than their strengths. Moreover, motivation also influences how people see themselves in the future, such that they expect their present strengths to remain constant, but they expect their present weaknesses to improve in the future.
And these different beliefs that people have about how malleable their traits are, and how they will develop in the future, were associated with their desire for change, which is higher for weaknesses versus strengths.
Is the above wrong?
Yes, if the only takeaway from such situations is to focus on improving weaknesses.
No, if you understand that focusing on strengths is as, if not more, important as improving weaknesses.
Why is focusing on weaknesses limiting your true potential
Working only on weaknesses makes us feel inadequate. And that feeling of inadequacy makes it impossible to stay motivated when trying to perform better.
When others criticise you, you become more defensive and unlikely to change. If you're unwilling to change, your chances of improving and getting better are limited.
In other words, focusing only on your weaknesses will make you feel sad, disappointed, and demotivated. All of this will prevent you from reaching your true potential.
Why should you focus on your strengths
When we work on things or areas that we're good at, we're happier, more motivated, and more satisfied. That feeling of happiness and achievement enables us to work harder and, in turn, helps us make our strengths even more potent.
Studies show that:
developing people's strengths helps them become more confident, productive and self-aware.
Companies that focus on their employees strengths see:
7% to 23% higher employee engagement
8% to 18% increase in performance
20% to 73% lower attrition that
Author, motivational speaker, and Management Consultant Marcus Buckingham believes that
employees should seek out activities that they receive great satisfaction doing—the things that fill them up and strengthen them intellectually as these tend to be the things they are most effective at. When we are involved in an activity using our strengths, it feels natural to us, and we are more inclined to experience accomplishment. Employees should determine what their natural tendencies are, where their natural skills and advantages lie, and cultivate those.
Have you ever noticed how easy it is to lose track of time when we do things which we're good at?
Marcus Buckingham goes on to explain why that is:
when we are involved in an activity using our strengths, it feels natural to us, and we are more inclined to experience accomplishment. Employees should determine what their natural tendencies are, where their natural skills and advantages lie, and cultivate those.
You should focus on your strengths and build on them. It is a myth that your greatest potential for growth is your areas of weakness. Focusing on them will demotivate you while focusing on your strengths will help you feel more positive and so give you energy.
In my personal and professional life, I've noticed that my body language and mood reflect my optimism and happiness when doing things I am good at. I find myself smiling more, being more passionate, being more engaged, having clear thoughts, and, most importantly, being happy.
And trying to learn when you're happy has a much more positive outcome than learning when sad or demotivated.
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Why is focusing on your strengths important in product management
I have spent most of the last two years introspecting what I'm good at and what I'm not good at (with respect to the skills required to be great at product management):
- I am a strong communicator,
- I am very high on ownership
- I am an expert at execution. (You can be too)
- I am good at breaking down complex problems into smaller, more actionable chunks
- I am not an extraordinarily creative or innovative person.
- I am not good at out-of-the-box thinking.
So this is how I try to double down on my strengths as a product manager:
- I consciously try to work on complex problems -- problems that need someone to help simplify. This allows the broader audience to comprehend them. In such situations, effective communication plays a significant role. And that makes it a win-win -- I use my strengths, am happy, and enjoy doing it, and everyone else better understands an otherwise complex problem.
- Similarly, I take on projects that are high-impact and execution heavy. Such projects usually have too many moving parts, multiple stakeholders, different opinions, conflicting priorities, etc. My experience and skill set enable me to deliver such projects efficiently and deliver the intended impact.
- On the other hand, I avoid taking the lead on projects that need creative or out-of-the-box thinking. In the rare case where I lead such projects, I ensure I have people on the team with complementary skill sets who can fill the gap by innovating on behalf of the group.
Playing on my strengths has allowed me to create impact and quickly grow through the ranks. It has also helped me stay motivated and happy throughout my journey. And it is the happiness that is the biggest reason for my success.
I recommend following a similar approach -- where you work on areas or projects that play on your strengths. That will help you deliver impact quickly, easily, while being happy and motivated.
How can I apply this in the real world as a product manager?
You can use a simple 3-step process:
Step 1: Gather positive feedback:
Ask your manager, friends, family, and colleagues for positive feedback.
Be sure to ask for positive feedback explicitly because the default for most humans is to share "opportunity areas" instead of strengths when sharing feedback.
You can also consider using online options to identify strengths. Some that are popular: Myers Briggs or Gallup Strengths.
Step 2: Identify commonalities in the feedback.
Once you have collected feedback, identify common themes across all responses. This will help make sure that you have recognized the right professional strengths.
For ex: in my positive feedback, I often hear things like:
- "..has the great ability to explain complex things in a simple manner that everyone can understand."
- "Focuses on ensuring everyone understands and works on the right problem."
- "If he commits, he will deliver. Or he will not commit."
All of the above are clear signals of my communication, ability to simplify things and to get things done as promised.
Step 3: Find opportunities that focus on your strengths.
Choosing what you work on is only sometimes under our control. And hence doing this last step is more challenging than it sounds.
So if you're not in a position to choose what you work on, you can do this instead:
- First, work on building credibility as a product manager.
- Second, candidly share your thoughts, self-assessment, and aspirations with your manager. Agree on a path with them that lets you work on tasks that utilize your strengths.
- Find others around you who complement your skillset and try delegating or collaborating on tasks that don't align with your strengths.
- Find sub-areas within your tasks that play to your strengths, and focus on them first to motivate you about the work.
Balancing Strengths and Weaknesses for Optimal Growth
While it is vital to double down on our strengths to perform at a higher level, we shouldn't ignore our weaknesses. Instead, we should strive to reach a balance between the two.
For example, if you're not good at communication but good at innovative and creative thinking, you'd find it very hard to succeed as a product manager. While you might have the best ideas, no one will understand them if you can't effectively communicate them. And in this case, you should work on your weaknesses first.
But if there are other situations where you are already doing decently well in all the baseline skills of a product manager, then it makes sense to focus on strengths.
In closing, I summarise the approach below:
- Identify the critical skills to succeed as a product manager in your context.
- Then classify them into strengths and weaknesses.
- If you're weak in any of the critical skills, then focus on them first.
- If you're strong on the essential skills, try doubling down on them, and focus on strengths and weaknesses in a good balance.