Nov 02, 2017
‘Is it better to focus on fixing your weaknesses or improving your strengths?’
This is one question that I’d always ask whenever running any kind of Leadership Development event or workshop. The answer is complex for sure and always provokes some interesting discussion, but I believe that a simple kids’ card game may have the answer.
Do you remember Top Trumps? The game where players have a stack of unique cards which would face off, one card at a time, using 1 of 5 stats as a measure of the card’s strength. The person who leads, gets to decide which stat will be used to compare the cards for that round and the winner of the round takes the cards and leads on the next round, until one player has all the cards and the game is won.
There’s Top Trumps for Footballers, Cars, Disney characters and Politicians but my favourite deck was always the Mythical Creatures. Each creature in the deck had a picture of it in action: casting a spell, crushing something with its mallet, or flying around somewhere. I know what you’re thinking - This kid knows how to have fun.
There are 3 types of cards you need to know about.
1. The specialist cards … like the Ogre. ‘Strong’ but slow and stupid.
2. The all-rounders … like the Goblin. Fairly ‘Smart’, Surprisingly ‘Strong’ and with reasonable ‘Speed’.
3. And there’s also a few weak cards like the Gnome. They might be a half decent garden decoration, but in Top Trumps they are poor.
If you’re leading the round and you have an Ogre you can play to your strength…literally. You’d call “Strength, 90/100”, and this will trump pretty much any card in the deck. However, if you’re not leading then you’d better hope they don’t call “Speed”, “Intelligence” or “Magic” because you’ll have no chance with your Ogre.
If you have Goblin and you’re leading, it makes little difference what you call as your stats are all average. Unless you call ‘Strength’ against an Ogre, you have a fair chance of winning. If you’re not leading, you might just about win against a Gnome, but you’re going to lose against any specialist playing to their strength … every single time.
And, if you have a card with a lovely red hat and fishing rod, but no developed strengths then you’re in trouble no matter what happens.
Assuming we can agree that we don’t want to be a Gnome, do you think it’s better to be a specialist or an all-rounder? The answer here clearly depends on whether you’re leading or not.
In our early years of life, we are not typically ‘leading’ and deciding the rules of the game. Our schooling system and much of the corporate world encourages us to become Goblins. They want to see a nice rounded approach because it’s safe and they can make a lot of use from a ‘jack of all trades’. The schooling system I experienced taught me that 3 B’s was worth more than an A and 2 C’s (A=3 points, B=2 points, C=1 point). And when most people start out in their corporate career they are encouraged to experience a multitude of tasks, roles, and environments.
In my mind, this is excellent … for a time. To know our strengths, we must try new things, we must learn the basics of both Maths and Languages, just as it’s beneficial to learn a bit of project management along with sales and customer relations. That way, you will at least trump a Gnome in most situations and avoid many pitfalls in life along the way.
But this makes you a Goblin. And a Goblin gets trumped by any power card who is playing to their strength … every single time.
And here’s the really crazy thing. In real life, half of the players don’t even know how to read their card. They don’t know what their strengths are and they have no idea where they can trump the rest of the cards in the deck. They also don’t believe they can control the playing field and so they try to work on their weaknesses, just in case they get called out.
Once you know your own strengths you’re already ahead of most people. Then all you have to do is to take control of the game and start dictating what’s going to be the important measure of you, your performance and your impact on others.
1. Spend your teens and early 20’s exploring different fields and learning new skills.
2. Evaluate where your interests and strengths lie.
3. Accept some of your weaknesses and triple down your strengths.
4. Work out how to ‘lead’ and play life on the front foot.
5. Mop up any critical weaknesses later on once you are already winning.
For the 3 essential ways to love the work you do, check out this video on my YouTube channel.