You know Jack, he’s good at all trades and a master of none. But what is he like as a leader? He’s ok, but not nearly as effective as he could be.
Leaders often feel pressure (most of it self-imposed) to be extremely competent in all aspects of leadership and areas they are leading. The problem is they are not as effective as they could be if they focused on leveraging their strengths and delegated their weaknesses.
When you think of successful leaders you admire in your community or the world stage, they are usually known for one or two aspects of their leadership qualities. When you think of that person, I bet their strengths come to mind without much thought.
They may be great organizers, visionaries, communicators, accountants, or marketers, etc. What you probably don’t know are their major weaknesses. These leaders have found ways to ensure the important areas they are weak in are covered by other competent people or systems.
Now, think of a leader you have struggled with in the past or have little respect for. There is a good chance their weaknesses are causing the struggle and they have not developed a way to compensate for it.
As a leader, there will be situations when your weaknesses may openly affect your leadership ability before you are able to delegate or develop a system to deal with it. In these cases, it is best to admit your weakness, get the help you need and move on rather than cover it up or blame others.
I learned this lesson the hard way. When leading expeditions for the National Outdoor Leadership School (www.NOLS.edu), I was required to write handwritten evaluations of my students at the end of every course. Many of the students were doing the course for college credit so the evaluations would be sent off to their colleges for review and grades added to their transcripts. Also, some students would use their evaluation to land a job or scholarships.
Most importantly, the feedback on the evaluation was meant to summarize their performance on the course and provide the next steps for them to develop their leadership and outdoor living skills. I took writing these evaluations seriously, but at the same time they were my worst nightmare!
The evaluations comprised of several boxes relating to core competencies to tick and open sections to write a substantial paragraph on the student’s performance. It was fairly standard as evaluations go but the difference with most job evaluations is this form had to be handwritten in the field (i.e., on the beach, side of a mountain, toe of a glacier, next to a raging river, etc.) without the help of spell-check on a computer. No big deal, right? Sound beautiful and relaxing, well not for this leader who is dyslexic and would rank spelling as one of his greatest weaknesses.
I loved leading these expeditions and took my leadership role seriously. I wanted to be the perfect leader all the time. This included writing quality evaluations at the end of each course. In my first few courses, I didn’t have a system in place to help me with my weakness and I surely couldn’t delegate the writing to my co-instructors as they had theirs to write as well. I would have the time of my life for 95% of the course but throughout the expedition I dreaded the 5% coming up at the end. It was in the back of my mind the whole time.
To cover up for my weakness, I would go off by myself and write and rewrite rough copies of these evaluation paragraphs. I would spend hours at it. I even carried a pocket dictionary with me in my backpack and hid it from everyone (this was before cheap, light weight, durable electronic devices were redly available). This may not sound like a big deal but our packs were so heavy, we were cutting our toothbrushes in half to save weight, I couldn’t have anyone knowing I was carrying a dictionary around!
Admit Weakness and Move On
I am sure the evaluations I wrote on those first few courses were pretty horrible. In fact, I had a supervisor ask me to rewrite a couple of them, which was embarrassing. I didn’t want to admit my weakness.
As I led more courses, I started developing systems to speed up and improve the quality of my writing. I developed a sheet of adjectives I commonly used and words I misspelled. I tucked that sheet in my dictionary for quick reference. Since these evaluations were considered a legal document, they had to be written in pen.
After using boatloads of whiteout (more secret weight in my backpack) I rediscovered the erasable pen from my childhood. Whenever I could find them, I would buy 10 at a time. I also employed the help of my co-instructors to proofread my writing. That may sound like a logical thing to do but for a long time I was too embarrassed to ask for help.
Boy, did I envy all those good writers I worked with who took the good copy evaluation and in one go wrote out a quality report in 15 minutes!
Seek Out Support
If only I had sought the support I needed to for my one small weakness, I could have alleviated much of the stress and would have been a more effective leader.
Think about how much time and energy you put into dealing with one of your weaknesses over the course of a day, week or month. Are there ways for you to delegate or develop systems to work around the weakness so you can be more productive and focus on your strengths?
Until next week… Embrace the Adventure!
Shawn Stratton is an international leadership and team building consultant, professional speaker, bestselling author, Ironman competitor, expedition guide and podcast host.
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