I’ve written previously about strengths and strengths-finding and cultivating strengths. When I first started focusing on strengths with my coach, I was concerned that I was missing something by ignoring (or focusing less, anyway) on my weaknesses. But this seemed to be standard in a strengths-focused approach. I think the thinking is that weaknesses are typically less about character and more about skills; the latter can be improved by training. Also, building on strengths is not about changing but capitalizing and weaknesses are (potentially) off-set by strengths and so will be overcome somewhat naturally. I think this latter point is incorrect, as ignoring or failing to recognize a weakness can make it worse or at least leave it vulnerable.
In my initial explorations of this, I wondered why there wasn’t a companion to StandOut 2.0 (by Marcus Buckingham) – a weakness-finder (but likely with a more marketable name) to give a name to and encapsulate areas of challenge. But alas, there wasn’t anything specific like this.
So I decided to take an upside down approach – if you look at the list of all the possible strengths (at least the ones in the assessments), and look at the ones at the bottom of your own list, those would be your weaknesses, or your “least strengths” as I came to call them. The theory is that if these are all of the potential areas of strength, then the ones that I scored the worst on must be my weaknesses.
Weakness in this context has a double meaning. First and most obvious, weaknesses are areas for improvement, aka growing edges, opportunities, etc. These least strengths are also vulnerabilities – situations and environments, and also strengths that others might have, in which one might struggle or be at a disadvantage. Knowing what these are can help with building up additional skills but also recognize areas and situations where you might be at a disadvantage.
StandOut looks at nine strengths categories. While it does give you your overall ranking for all nine, the categories are quite broad and so harder to evaluate as least strengths. Something with more detail is needed.
Et voila: CliftonStrengths 34. This is the profiling approach with the Gallup organization from which StandOut evolved. As its name suggests, it has 34 categories, and when you get your reports, it ranks all 34 in order from top to least strengths. It also categorizes the strengths into four themes – executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking – allowing for a higher-level assessment of strengths and potential.
First, my strengths. In StandOut, you focus on just the top two (which for me are Equalizer and Connector). In CliftonStrengths, you focus on the top 5, which for me are:
Without sharing the whole report, suffice to say this assessment aligns very well with both the Strengths (Equalizer = Arranger + Maximizer, Connector = Arranger + Relator) and a much older assessment, the Herrmann Whole Brain Dominance assessment (in that, I was equally strong in all 4 areas, and in the CliftonStrengths, my top four cover all four themes).
CliftonStrenths does acknowledge these least strengths - the list includes a ranking for all 34 strengths, and they encourage you to “navigate the rest to maximize your infinite potential.” I chose to look at the list from the bottom and consider my least strengths: are these areas I could work to improve? Are these vulnerabilities I should be aware of? For the latter, definitely yes.
My least least strength is called Competition. People for whom this is a strength measure their progress against the performance of others rather than an objective standard, strive to win, and thrive in contests. I couldn’t agree more that this is a least strength for me. Not only am I rarely motivated in my work and leadership to outshine anyone else, and have a hard time understanding (and sometimes working with) those for whom competition is a strength and motivation. I don’t think this is something I want to “improve” – I don’t want to get better at being competitive. But I can learn to recognize this as a vulnerability. When I find myself in situation that is competitive, I can acknowledge that my performance is likely to be…meh. When I find that I’m working with others for whom this is a strength, I can try to harness that as a way to work with them and motivate them.
My second least strength is called Futuristic. People for whom this is a strength are inspired by the Future and its potential, and in turn inspire and engergize others with their vision. Honestly, to me this sounds very hand-wavey and cheerleader-ish – lots of style but little substance. I do know people who are very good at this, but unless this strength is combined with others in execution (or the person works very closely with others with complementary strengths), it won’t accomplish much IMHO. I recognize clearly that this is a weakness for me, and have for a long time; I do have difficulty seeing beyond the immediate future as anything other than an extrapolation-with-adjustment on the present. Again, this isn’t a strength I particularly want to work on, as I feel my Maximizer strength (stimulating excellence in others and making strong things even better) offsets this. As with Competition, recognizing this as a weakness can help me understand why I might have difficulty in working or communicating with someone who is Futuristic, and why I might struggle with articulating a future vision that goes beyond building on the present.
Moving up the list (Individualization, Restorative, Strategic), the same approach can be applied – evaluate it and recognize the potential vulnerabilities and opportunities when working with others. For me, being able to name these things is a big part of being able to work on them, and that was the piece that was missing in the strengths work. Now that I have the list, I can know what these are and incorporate them into my own development and work.
Like the strongest strengths, the least strengths are less about skills development and more about recognition and capitalization. Know thy enemy, especially when it’s yourself.
Who is Robyn?
My career as a research project manager is rewarding, dynamic, challenging, and fun. I'm looking forward to sharing my knowledge and experience in communication, organization, and common sense approaches in research management and leadership, and to enabling others to learn and grow in this exciting career.