In the process of coaching for peak performance, one of the processes our clients go through is a personal self-assessment. It covers multiple dimensions, including career/financial, social life, mental development, physical, family, and ethics and beliefs. This is not done with an overlay of a standard of what “should” be, but rather with the client’s own values driving the evaluation. We almost always wind up in a discussion about whether it is better to strengthen your strengths, or fix your weaknesses.

When you undergo a comprehensive self-assessment like this one the issue is rarely whether you will identify “enough” opportunities to work on. More likely there are so many potential areas for improvement identified by the coachee that it can be overwhelming. Where to start?

Middle of the road or world class

One of the questions that sometimes goes begging is “How much improvement do you think is possible if you were to focus some energy on it?” Different people have different habits of thought around change, whether it is possible or even desirable.  But for the sake of the discussion here, let’s assume that if you were to concentrate your energies on improving something you could make, on a scale of 1-10, two points worth of progress.

Now let’s give you a hypothetical score for a strength – let’s say you have rated yourself a 7 out of 10 for that dimension.  If you apply effort to improve that 7, you could bring it to a 9.  That’s a real differentiator – almost world class.  Now let’s say that you think you need to improve on a weakness, and you rated that weakness as 3 on the 10-scale.  If you apply the same effort and move your weakness two points you’re only at 5 out of 10. After all the expenditure of energy – and the opportunity cost of not working on something else to make room for this – you are still only middle of the road in that dimension. It is still nothing to write home about. Your better choice from this perspective would be to focus on a strength and go for world class.

One other thought about working on strengths first: you are naturally attracted to feelings of competence and confidence. When you are confident you are more likely to step out into unknown territory. You enjoy spending time on your areas of strength. So when you choose to work on strengths first, you engage yourself into more activity more quickly. You achieve quicker results.

Deal-breaker weaknesses

There are weaknesses that are deal-breakers. If you have a difficult time establishing rapport with other people, you’re going to feel the impact in any environment in which you must navigate among them. As much as this gets soft-pedaled sometimes, people skills are a crucial area with which to concern yourself if you’re not already strong there. OR – you choose roles and lifestyles that don’t require that factor to be so important to your performance.

Non-strengths

There’s a category that we have not yet talked about here, and that is your non-strengths. Non-strengths are different from weaknesses in that they are not something that you are good at doing, but it doesn’t matter because you don’t need or want to use them. I am not a runner, never have been, but although I can’t run a mile without side stitches, I don’t run miles. It’s not a weakness. It’s a non-strength. So, I choose to hike, or chop wood, or do Zumba instead for exercise. I accomplish my fitness goals by engaging in other activities where I have strength.

Strengths in the foreground

Rarely do other people see the complete portfolio of your strengths and your weaknesses unless you do something to put them on parade. Your strengths, well developed, pop into the foreground, and can to such an extent that your weaknesses become invisible or irrelevant. You don’t have to be great at bunting in baseball if people buy tickets to watch you slug home runs. You don’t have to be wonderful at jazz improvisation if you are known for playing Southern rock.

Not sure what your strengths are, or where you should focus your personal development efforts? There are many tools available to help you find out. Or if you think you are ready to have a conversation about how coaching may be an effective tool for you, let’s talk. We can get you started on the first step to a fully developed you!