We all have characteristics that many people would consider weaknesses. Most of us are raised being told to figure out how we should either change, diminish, or get rid of these aspects of ourselves.
But what if what we’re calling “weaknesses” are actually not weaknesses at all, but rather, strengths that are somehow misguided? What if there were a way for us to leverage these characteristics such that they could be used for our own good and for the good of others – and thereby, be considered strengths?
After nearly 17 years of continuous self-improvement work, I’ve come to learn that in reality, a weakness is just a “strength confused.” And with the right approach, we can actually turn what we have historically told ourselves are weaknesses, into strengths that propel us forward not only in the workplace, but in also our lives more broadly. The approach takes 2 simple steps:
Step 1: Brainstorm ways the “weakness” can be useful. Virtually everything we identify as a weakness, if applied in the right setting and circumstances, can actually be a strength. Sometimes, it can take some time to see the “right answer” here – but have the faith that if you are genuine in your pursuit of the answer and you give it enough time, you will absolutely figure out how the “weakness” you’re considering can be utilized as a strength.
Step 2: Find a place where the “weakness” can be useful in your life specifically. Once you’ve determined how the weakness can actually be used as a strength, think about how you can craft opportunities in your job and your life where this “weakness” can actually shine its light as a strength*. This step will take some creativity, but I promise you that if you are persistent, you’ll be able to figure out ways to channel what you perceive as something holding you back, into something that actually moves you forward.
Some Real Examples
OK, this might sound good in theory. But, you may ask, “How would I do this in real life?” The best way to answer this is to share a few examples from my own life on this topic.
Growing up, I was a super energetic child. By today’s standards, I would surely have been labeled ADHD. I had a number of “weaknesses” I was repeatedly told by various constituencies (family, the community, early work bosses, etc.) that I needed to “keep in check” and “work on.” Following are 3 of these characteristics that are quite common for many people. I’ve shared how I learned to channel these weaknesses as strengths for my own good and the good of others – in my job and for the world.
On the surface, being super stubborn sounds like it’s a problem, right? Well, there are lots of places where stubbornness can actually be an asset. For example, many of the problems the world faces today are so deep and vast, that they can only be addressed with a fierce level of stubbornness. For instance, consider matters relating to social injustice (Nelson Mandela was a pretty stubborn guy). Or, take an example from a business role – stubbornness is an asset in a role like Sales – where the answer is usually “no” 99 times out of 100.
So how have I used stubbornness in a way that benefits me and others? I channeled it and founded The OBO Movement. If you’re not familiar with this initiative, you can check out the explainer video on our website; the basic gist is that it’s a movement to transform how we as a society do business, changing the focus from money to complete employee fulfillment – and showing the world that when we do that, money will actually be a by-product of this refocusing that comes to us. Needless to say, this is a pretty revolutionary concept – one that most businesspeople today, particularly senior management, might think is crazy and completely backward. Any person promoting a vision like this has to be pretty stubborn in order for such a bold vision to be implemented.
Like hand in glove. I founded an initiative that will benefit not only me, but also everyone I come in contact with, using a characteristic that in many other situations would get me dinged on a performance review.
We all know fear can have a wide-ranging adverse impact on people’s lives; in some cases, it can be devastating. (Think of the battered spouse who is too frightened, understandably, to leave her abuser.) But are there circumstances where fear can be an asset? The answer is a resounding “yes.”
Fear is a remarkable tool when used properly. It’s the part of you that can help point out all of the things that could go “wrong” (a/k/a “unintended consequences”) from the current action you’re taking – and therefore, help ensure that you have proper contingency planning in place. There are also certain jobs where thinking about unintended consequences is an enormous asset to and actually part of the role – for example, think of policymakers or corporate lawyers.
Fear has been a big part of my life with The OBO Movement. It’s a scary thing, after spending almost 20 years in traditional corporate America, to go out and proclaim that virtually every business practice we have in place today needs to be blown up and recreated in a more awakened and humane manner. So how do I use my fear as a strength?
Fear has helped me think ahead about possible adverse consequences of decisions we’re making in the movement, that could slow our implementation down – and develop strategies, approaches, and sequencing in a much smarter manner. Moreover, in the spirit of the movement, I openly and candidly share my feelings with my co-workers – and that includes sharing when I’m scared. In doing this, my fear actually serves me by deepening the connection with the people I’m working with – what better way to strengthen the bond with others than to step into vulnerability and tell a co-worker you’re having an emotion that he also experiences from time to time? (I know you might be thinking you need the “right” co-worker for this to work, but trust me, this will work with more people than you think**.)
Ah, impatience. Probably one of the most common characteristics of the Type-A personality. We want it right now, now, now!
Could impatience possibly be a good thing? Let’s think about scenarios where impatience is actually an asset. Take major current world challenges, for instance, like climate change or plastic in the oceans. These are things that most credible scientists say need to be addressed immediately, or else. I want someone who’s super impatient working on these problems, because time is not on our side. If you are an impatient individual working on solutions to these issues, thank you! Like these examples, we can come up with many other examples of roles in businesses, or even aspects to a given role in any business, that would benefit from impatience.
At The OBO Movement, my impatience has led to us accomplishing business objectives and outcomes that in many cases would have taken years and millions of dollars, in months and with virtually no money. Many of these achievements will be detailed in forthcoming content on our website and in the first book of The OBO Movement, slated to be published this fall. My impatience has led me to fuse my professional life and my personal pursuit of self-improvement into a singularity – which means I spend almost every waking moment living and implementing the message of the movement, which is a good thing for me and for the world.
So the idea here is that our “weaknesses” can actually be considered strengths in disguise. And when we come to realize that, we can have gratitude for them – rather than wishing them away. They actually begin to work for us, rather than against us. If you give it the appropriate time and approach, I promise you that you can figure out how to take the characteristics that are holding you back, and use them to propel you forward.
* For a fascinating study on job crafting, see this awesome research study done by professors Amy Wrzesniewski (NYU) and Jane Dutton (University of Michigan).
** If you’d like to discuss this, reach out to me!
Dev Tandon is the founder of The OBO Movement, a movement that is transforming how we as a society do business, changing the focus from money, to complete employee fulfillment.