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Career Advice Career Development: Build Your Strengths or Fix Your Weaknesses?

Career Development: Build Your Strengths or Fix Your Weaknesses?

Should professionals focus their career development efforts on fostering their strengths, addressing their weaknesses, or both?
Julia VanDeren Apr 6, 2016

The above question generated the most debate among experts during a career management Twitter chathosted by CFA Institute. Among the participating executive and career coaches — Kim Ann Curtin (United States), Antonios El Achkar (United Arab Emirates), Robert Hellmann (United States), and Simon Tyler (United Kingdom) — none advocated an exclusive focus on fixing weaknesses. There was a healthy disagreement, however, between having a robust primary focus on strengths versus a balanced approach to development efforts.

On the side of concentrating on strengths, consider that your talents and expertise are what you need to highlight in any effort to differentiate yourself in the competition for clients, jobs, and advancement. You are certainly less likely to win a respectable new client by stressing that your attention to detail could use some work. Certainly the traits that have the most potential to advance your career deserve the most attention.

During the chat, Curtin pointed out that women in particular spend too much time focusing on their shortcomings and trying to address them. She was emphatic that this needs to stop. It is well documented that women considering jobs and promotions will read the position prerequisites and allow one or two deficits to keep them from applying. Men, on the other hand, will often apply as long as they believe they meet a majority of the requirements. In this case, Curtin is certainly correct that if women allowed the confidence they have in their strengths to weigh more prominently in their minds, they might open themselves up to more opportunities.

Furthermore, the experts noted, intuitive adaptation to roles and environments will organically make your weaknesses less of an issue so that focused development efforts need not be spent addressing them. And given that many work environments embrace a team structure that plays to individual strengths, concentrating on your potential shortcomings might simply pose a distraction.

But on the more balanced side of the equation, Hellmann suggested that if you are encountering a recurring issue or experiencing a sense of being “stuck” in your career, developing skills or characteristics that address potential deficits directly may be more helpful than working around them. There are other reasons to be a little bit skeptical of a purely strengths-focused development model. Specifically, what if your strengths aren’t actually relative competencies compared to your peers? Would it be beneficial to invest your development energy in a quality that does not, in fact, favorably differentiate you? Overused strengths can turn into weaknesses.


What do you think? In your own personal development efforts or in your efforts to coach and mange others, what has been your approach? What mix of strengths focus and weakness focus have you found works best for moving yourself and your career toward your goals?

Share your thoughts and experience in the comments section.

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The views expressed in this article are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Cafemutual.

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