What is Your Greatest Weakness?

What is your greatest weakness?

Last week, I spent my commute listening to the BBC discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the two IMF candidates, French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde and Governor of the Bank of Mexico Agustin Carstens. Ms. Lagarde’s weakness has been described as a lack of knowledge of global monetary policy which is offset by her strength, political savvy. Mr. Carstens review is basically the polar opposite: a PhD from the University of Chicago, Mr. Carsten could singlehandedly solve the world’s financial troubles within weeks, but his political network of influence is sorely lacking. By most accounts, experts believe Mr. Carsten’s lack of political expertise may turn out to be too much of a detriment for the position.

The interview got me thinking of how to overcome weaknesses, and whether or not some weaknesses are too insurmountable to overcome. However, in order to overcome weaknesses you have to actually admit them and, most importantly, admit real weaknesses, not just what sounds good in a job interview, to voters, or in discussions with stakeholders. Strong leaders know themselves a little better than to just say their weakness is being a perfectionist or loving candy a little too much. A well rounded leader is intelligent, determined, and inspirational; she is also ethical, not egotistical, and a great listener. Knowing your real weaknesses, you can surround yourself with peers who help to balance out these weak points. In Ms. Legarde’s case, if selected as the IMF Chief, she would quickly need to surround herself with the brightest minds in global economic policy. Unfortunately in Mr. Carsten’s case, surrounding yourself by political experts may not be as easily done in a position that is, by most accounts, highly political.

Knowing your weaknesses is perhaps more important than knowing your strengths when selecting the right career, company, or job. While it may sound like you are one of the most perfect leaders in the world by saying your biggest weakness is being a perfectionist, being unaware of your own weaknesses benefits no one. How do you identify your weaknesses? The simplest way is to first, ask yourself (try to be honest) and second, ask your peers to rank you on some of the most important qualities of a leader (I have listed the top 11 traits of leaders below). Which three qualities are you great at; which three are you not so great at. You do not need to develop your limitations into strengths, but you do need to find a way to balance out these areas to make your leadership style and team more effective. If listening is one of your greatest weaknesses, then find a leader or peer to work with who is great at hearing customer and employee concerns and can help you incorporate these ideas and concerns into business plans. If inspiring people who work with you is a weakness, work with a leader who is a natural cheerleader and motivator to balance your softer demeanor. So often leaders hire like-minded people; but this team design is bound to fail in the long term.

Not sure where to start when identifying what you may need help with? Different qualities carry different weight within different organizations, this goes without saying. But these eleven qualities are some of the basics every leader must possess in order to be successful in the long run. An amazing leader…

1.     is self-disciplined

2.     inspires others

3.     makes data driven, decisive decisions

4.     communicates a clear, simple vision

5.     has strong communication and listening skills

6.     possesses high intelligence

7.     plans, and then implements the plans

8.     is fair, but strong

9.     learns quickly and develops learning into multiple talents

10.   is proud of her achievements, but is not egotistical

11.   above all else, is ethical.

Most importantly a great leader knows her weaknesses, her real weaknesses not some off the hand, insincere quality she thinks sounds viable, but is also not too must of a liability. While some flaws may be insurmountable for certain positions you may seek, by digging deep and knowing your real weaknesses you will be able to find your perfect job, excel in it, and be happy with life as your pursue it.

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