Do you crave more success than you have yet achieved?
Do you know deep in your being that you were meant for something bigger but just can’t seem to break free of the rut you find yourself in?
There is one thing that we are told over and over again from the time we are small children that gets in the way of that success and freedom we were wired to crave. Our parents started teaching it to us. Our schools are specially designed to force us away from success at this point.
When we enter the work place, most of our supervisors put effort into building this barrier which keeps us from maximizing our potential. The very evaluation system that is often used by companies often forces us to prioritize exactly backwards to what would make us most valuable to the company.
The process many of us find ourselves in creates a vicious cycle that continually leads us further and further from where we really want to go. Those of us who are especially driven to succeed may even pay to go to expensive conferences and seminars all the while reinforcing this very barrier to success, misguidedly thinking that they are helping to improve their situation.
What is it that conventional wisdom gets so completely wrong about how to succeed?
Our Wrong Priorities
How many times have you been told that you need to improve in an area that you are weak in?
For many of us we put all our efforts of working toward success into overcoming our weaknesses. And it seems to make sense. From a logical perspective, if there is something that we aren’t so good at, and we aren’t seeing the success that we’d like to, then it should stand to reason that improving in this area will improve our success, right?
Think about that last performance review at work. Your go into your bosses office, close the door, and sit down as he hands you those pieces of paper with your annual evaluation on it. There you see a breakdown of your performance as interpreted by supervisor. Most of us are probably rated above average in most things. Maybe couple of items are listed as exceptional. And then there seems to always be those one or two areas where we really aren’t so strong.
And somehow the evaluation always ends up with a discussion about what you can do differently to bring those weak areas up so that our boss will see our overall performance as improved.
Are you disorganized? Have a tendency to be late? Conventional wisdom says that you need to improve in these areas to achieve success. In an effort to fix this problem you may get a personal planning calender, or maybe a PDA to carry around with you in the hopes that just by toting the aid around you will somehow achieve more success.
And when it doesn’t work – we stay disorganized or chronically tardy – we continue to see failure instead of success and assume that the reason is the area of our weakness.
In The Power of Focus, the guys who brought us the Chicken Soup for the Soul series share with us this very crutial idea from business coach Dan Sullivan
If you spend too much time working on your weaknesses, all you end up with is a lot of strong weaknesses!
And that’s where too many of us find ourselves – unsuccessful with a lot of strong weaknesses. The trouble is focusing on trying to improve our weaknesses is a system that is destined to push us further away from the very success we think we are moving toward.
Looking at the Problem Backwards
Our problem is not that we have too many weaknesses, but rather that our strengths are not strong enough. We have this mistaken idea that what we need to do to become more successful is to develop a broad level of competency in as wide a variety of areas as possible instead of focusing on just a few things.
Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Again listen to the guys from The Power of Focus
When you focus most of your time and energy doing the things you are truly brilliant at, you eventually reap big rewards.
The idea is simple.
What are things that you already do well?
What are areas where you have a passion that can keep your attention for hours and hours?
John Maxwell in his book Today Matters says that he asks the following question every day as he sets his daily priorities
What gives me the greatest return? As you progress in your career, you begin to discover that some activities yeild much higher return for the effort than others do. (Anyone who hasn’t discovered that probably isn’t progressing in his career!) The next place to focus your attention is on those high-return activities.
If we make the mistake of focusing on our weaknesses instead of our strengths we will never realize that maximum return that Maxwell talks about.
But what if you don’t have very many strengths? How can you be successful with limited abilities?
Here is the best part! You can be tremendously successful even on the basis of only one strength, if you will simply recognize it and focus your time and effort there.
In A Millionaire’s Notebook Steven Scott says it this way
If you can do one thing well – even if it doesn’t seem significant – you have the potential for phenomenal success.
Do you know what one skill Steve credits with his own success? He can type.
He can type. He discovered early on in his life that his ability to type allowed him to get his thoughts recorded nearly at the speed which he thought them. And he leveraged that one single ability into a hugely successful multi-million dollar career.
A Different Approach to Our Weaknesses
Now all this doesn’t mean that we can completely ignore our weaknesses. But it certainly does change or focus. Instead of trying to achieve success by strengthening our weaknesses we will do much better to make our strengths even stronger.
We should approach it with the 80/20 rule. Invest 80% of our time and effort into improving our strengths and 20% of our effort into mitigating our weaknesses.
One way to mitigate our weaknesses is to forge partnerships with other folks who compliment us because their strengths are in the very areas we are not as strong.
Work on building teams. Instead of trying to be generally competent in all areas, bring people together who are especially skilled in specific complimentary areas. And then turn them loose. Let them go crazy in their areas of specialty. Watch them achieve tremendous success and propel the team to new heights.
Consider it like outsourcing your weaknesses. Just like successful organizations that focus on their core competencies, you can invest most of your efforts in the areas you are strongest and outsource the rest.
Change your focus. Set aside the faulty conventional wisdom. Invest more effort in your strengths than in your weaknesses. And then watch how much more successful you become.