Strengths, Weaknesses, and Fatal Flaws

Most are familiar with what we call a “strengths-based” approach to personal and professional growth.

Numerous books like Now Discover Your Strengths and Strength-based Leadership stress that we generate more positive results from maximizing our strengths than from focusing on weaknesses.

Does that mean we should just ignore our weaknesses and hope our strengths carry us through? No. Instead you should look closely at your strengths and weaknesses. Identify any weakness that may be a “fatal flaw” and move into action by fixing it. So, what’s the difference between strengths, weaknesses, and fatal flaws? Let’s take a look at two examples.

Say you’re an architect who is exceptional at designing breathtaking houses with complex design elements. Sharpening and fine-tuning this strength would generate new clients and produce a great reputation over time. A worthwhile investment and a clear strength.

If, however, you aren’t technologically savvy and don’t know how to use advanced design software to create lifelike renderings, you might lose potential clients. This weakness would limit your work output–but might not affect you too much (at least in the short run). You could learn to use a new design program, but would probably still attract clients via less-advanced technology (especially if you already have a great reputation). This may be a worthwhile investment–if not now, then in the future.

Let’s assume, however, that you are so careless with details that you don’t double check important measurements. This could result in houses collapsing, which is a weakness that now has turned into a fatal flaw. A “must investment” if you want to continue working as an architect.

As a manager, you might be an exceptional coach who asks carefully crafted open-ended questions, showing sincere interest by actively listening (strength). On the other hand, you might not be the most eloquent communicator and at times make impulse “off the cuff” remarks (weakness). If you coach a person who doesn’t mind off the cuff remarks, no harm was done. If, however, the same weakness, offended someone, it has now turned into a fatal flaw, which could lead to the person leaving the organization because they felt disrespected. Remember, any strength under-utilized or weakness unattended, can turn into a fatal flaw.

  • Make a list of your strengths in a particular area (personal or professional). For example, you might be a clear and direct communicator or one who builds deep caring relationships. Consider how each strength can be “maximized” (or used more often) to tap into your unique gifts and talents.
  • Next, make a list of weaknesses in that same area. Consider if any of these weaknesses might be fatal flaws—today or in the future, if left unattended.
  • Make a commitment to yourself or an accountability partner to address or correct this flaw over a specific timeframe (long- or short term).

We like to set an annual “theme” for addressing and tackling fatal flaws on a daily basis. For example, an annual theme might center around “being present.” If we break the theme into action steps that allow for greater presence action-by-action, we could make small daily commitments to “avoid multi-tasking,” “ask questions vs. making statements,” or “make more tell-me-more statements to allow others to engage.” Themes are powerful because they allow us to focus on improving fatal flaws one by one.

Change is hard. No fatal flaw is likely to disappear overnight. Give yourself kudos for acknowledging your flaws. Acting on them requires daily commitment to creating positive habits that turn into new strengths.