Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Do You Know What Your 3 Greatest Strengths and Weaknesses Are?

I was helping out our Career Services team last week by being an interviewer for some of our soon-to-graduate senior business majors. Although I have my own preferred way on doing selection interviewing, I was provided with a list of standard questions and was asked to stick to the script.
Two of the questions were:

1. What you’re your greatest strengths?
2. What are your greatest weaknesses and what are you doing to overcome them?

One of the student candidates nailed them both! She had very specific and authentic answers for each question, along with a story to illustrate each strength and weakness. The strengths were highly relevant to the position she was interviewing for. The weaknesses less relevant, but she skillfully used the question to show humble self-awareness and the desire to develop and improve.
The other three candidates didn’t do so well with the questions, which somewhat surprised me. I always thought those lame questions were two of the most overused interview questions used by inexperienced hiring managers. Anyone in the job market, or soon to be in the job market, should at a minimum have answers for those questioned memorized and rehearsed. They paused, they stumbled, and they rambled on, and eventually were able to sweat their way to the next question.

I was happy to give them constructive feedback. (-:
However, as I think about the work I’ve done with very seasoned successful executives, maybe I was too hard on those 20 something year-old students. When faced with the results of their 360 degree assessment reports and feedback, I’d say at least half of the executives I’ve coached didn’t have a clear handle on what their greatest strengths and weaknesses were. Or, even if they thought they did, there was a mismatch between the person they thought they were and how they were perceived by others.

Being aware of your strengths and weaknesses isn’t just important in acing interviews and landing a spot on a television reality show. It’s also important in order to be a successful leader. “Blind-spot” weaknesses, often manifested as over-used strengths that may have served as leader well early in their career, will most likely derail a senior leader if not identified and addressed. Attention to detail turns into micromanaging; confidence turns into arrogance, and being a good problem solver leads to an inability to delegate and develop others.
How aware are you of your strengths and weaknesses? If you haven’t already, could you answer the two questions about greatest strengths and weaknesses any better than our students did?

I could have two years ago when I was interviewing for my current position, but if I had to honestly answer the same questions today, I’m sure my answers would be different.
So here’s what I think we need to do:

At least once a year – about as often as we should get an annual performance review and be updating our resumes – take a few moments to answer those two questions. Then, if you have a weakness or overused strength that’s hindering your performance as a leader, create a development plan and do something about it. If you’re not sure what your strengths or weaknesses are – or want to verify your self-assessment (which in most cases is pretty inaccurate), get a 360 degree assessment and engage an executive coach to help your sort out the results and create your development plan.
If you can’t do a 360 or afford a coach, then at least ask others – your boss, coworkers, and employees – for their feedback. That’s what the most successful leaders do – they are always on the lookout for blind spots, and know when and how to adapt their behavior to the context of the situation they are faced with.

Don’t wait for that next job interview to take stock of your strengths and weaknesses – do it on a regular basis, as a part of your ongoing development as a leader.


Mary Jo Asmus said...

Dan, great post. I've noticed 2 things in my coaching of executives around these questions:

1. In organizations that have a culture of feedback (i.e., feedback is regularly and freely given and there are systems in place for consistent and formal feedback) that the executives I work with are so much more self aware than in other places. I might conclude - although anecdotally, that having a culture of feedback prevents leadership blind spots.

2. In other organizations than those highlighted in #1, when my clients receive their 360 results (often for the first time), the first question I ask them is "Did anything in this report surprise you?". Its very rare for them to say anything other than "no surprises". I find that curious. Are they spoofing me?

Perhaps there is something about well-designated "high potential" leaders (most of the leaders I coach are in this category) in terms of their self awareness. After all, self awareness is an essential component to good leadership.

What do you think?

Dan McCarthy said...

Mary Jo -
Thanks for your comment and question. Chicken or egg, right? Are high potentials more self-aware (because they are given more feedback, seek it out, have more opportunites to be tested and assessed, etc..), or does high self-awareness (as a trait) lead to a being seen as having high potential?
I've seen research that says high potentials rate themselves lower than others and lower than low performers rate themselves. So if there were surprises, it should be a pleasant surprise.
But then they may be spoofing the coach too. (-:

Dr. Worden said...

Might it be that a leader's strengths and weaknesses are less important than simply getting out of the way. I recently read a Taoist verse on leadership and was shocked to find the following suggestion: Don't use strategy. Instead, get out of the way and let the Tao govern your organization. This seems a bit too much to ask, but at least it challenges the assumption we hold about strengths and weaknesses mattering. If you are interested, have a look at this essay: http://www.thewordenreport.blogspot.com/2013/04/taoist-leadership.html