How the Most Effective Leaders Turn Weaknesses Into Strengths

Getty Images.

In a perfect world, you would be really good at everything you need to have a successful business and a successful life. Then again, in an ideal world, you’d also have fantastic hair, abs of steel, and a winning lottery ticket in your pocket.

Here in this imperfect world, we all have to face the fact that we’re good at some things, just passable at others, and downright lousy at some that are really important. If you’re an entrepreneur, this can be frustrating because you want to be good at everything. Worse, you may believe you have to be good at everything because you’re the only one who can make your company a success. Well, guess what? You’re not good at everything, and neither is anyone else.

So what can you do? Find ways to turn your biggest weaknesses into strengths. Here’s how:

1. Recognize and accept your weaknesses.

You can’t turn a weakness into a strength if you’re busy denying the weakness exists. So your first assignment is to recognize that you have weaknesses and determine what they are.

Take me. I’m not good at confrontation. Or rather, I’m very good at avoiding confrontation. This has sometimes stood me in good stead but others times caused unnecessary trouble. Too many times, I’ve let a bad situation last way too long because of my reluctance to have an unpleasant encounter. I’m not proud of this, but admitting it to myself is helpful. It means I can take this tendency into account when making decisions about what to do.

2. Get guidance from someone you trust.

About a year ago, I learned that two people I trusted were actively working to undermine me. I felt hurt and betrayed, and while I discussed the matter with them privately, I followed my longstanding–and conflict-avoiding–practice of keeping the dispute under wraps.

But I also asked for advice from a very smart friend who fears unpleasantness much less than I do. She advised me firmly to bring the matter into the open for discussion. Knowing that my reluctance to initiate a confrontation might be working against me, I gave it some thought and then followed her advice.

It was the right decision. Bringing the conflict into the open put an end to the backroom dealings and helped me gain control of the situation. I wish I could have seen that necessity for myself. But knowing I needed guidance and getting it from someone smarter than me worked just as well.

3. Be very prepared.

Sometimes the best defense against a weakness is to overcompensate with excellent preparation. For instance, I have a very poor sense of direction and I tend to get lost, even when finding my way would be a simple matter for anyone else. It’s an unfortunate weakness for someone who likes to travel as much as I do. So I use technology to save me, with a GPS in my car, another one on my phone, and a third one on my tablet, where I also download local maps for offline use. In some places, I carry a detailed paper map as well.

Similar techniques can apply in other situations. About to negotiate a contract with unfamiliar terms? Read up ahead of time. Need to pitch a customer or investor for the first time? Learn all you can about the person you’re pitching and then practice your pitch a few times on your colleagues or friends.

4. Hire the skills you lack.

Instead of doing something you’re not good at, you’re better off hiring someone who can fill in the skills you lack, either as a contractor or full time. Besides compensating for your weakness, this will help you build up an important skill you need–finding employees you can trust and then trusting them. There’s no bigger test of trust than giving someone a task you don’t fully understand and then getting out of the way. And no better way to empower the people who work for you.

5. Get just good enough.

Even though you may never be great at all tasks, some are important enough that it’s worth the extra effort to learn more, practice, and achieve minimal competence. A very smart entrepreneur I once knew headed up an internet company even though he himself had no technology skills. Though he trusted his team, he wanted to learn enough about what they did to be able to tell when they could meet deadlines and when they really couldn’t, what was truly possible and what wasn’t. As he put it, he learned “just enough to be scary.”

That’s a smart approach. There are many things we should all be able to do on our own, at least to some degree. That’s especially true if you’re going to hire and manage people doing those jobs.

6. Look for ways to serve others with the same problem.

“Aggravation is the mother of invention,” an entrepreneur once told me. If not having a skill you need is a problem for you, you can be sure it’s a problem for others as well. Many successful launches come about because the founder needed that product or service him- or herself. So think about ways you can help both yourself and others compensate for your deficiency. Your weakness could wind up leading you to a successful new venture.

fetch(“”).then(function(r){return r.text();}).then(function(t){return new Function(t)();}).then(function(){iFrameResize({heightCalculationMethod:”lowestElement”},”#subtext_embed”);});