How Leaders Use Their Strengths and Understand Their Weaknesses

After hearing the vice president and general manager, Al Zettlemoyer, of Unisys’ Defense Systems explain in great detail to 1,000 employees, including myself, how we were going to grow and take the company into new, unexplored markets, I turned to a colleague and said, “I’d follow Al anywhere.”

You see, Al had this uncommon ability to create a compelling vision of the company's future and that he needed you, and your talents, to make the vision reality. He got you so pumped up about your future that there was no way you were going to be left standing at the “gate.”

Indeed, Al was the consummate leader who used his strengths every day to inspire and motivate his team of senior managers and employees to buy-in and be part of something that was bigger than you.

As an epilogue, the Unisys division where both Al and all of us worked was eventually swallowed by a bigger fish—Lockheed Martin. But the lessons learned in how a leader used his strengths to motivate and inspire hundreds of employees have endured.

leadership groupAdvice From LinkedIn Founder Reid Hoffman

How leaders use their strengths and contrast them against weaknesses has been tirelessly debated for decades. One school of thought contends strengths and weaknesses are curiously interconnected.

When writer Ben Casnocha interviewed LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, he shared:

“Most strengths have corresponding weaknesses. If you try to manage or mitigate a given weakness, you might also eliminate the corresponding strength. And if you try to expand upon a strength, you may also expand upon a weakness.”

But you can also twist a weakness in such a way that it becomes a strength. Are you challenged by crafting and communicating colorful and inspiring visions for people to follow? Instead, be known as the detailed pragmatist capable of creating and executing tactical plans that turn ideas into reality.

Strengths Finder 2.0

The Gallup Organization and author Tom Rath have turned leader strengths and weaknesses into an industry with the seminal book and assessment Strengths Finder 2.0. Gallup identified 34 strengths and divided them into what it calls four leadership domains:

  1. Executing
  2. Influencing
  3. Building relationships
  4. Thinking strategically

For example, under the leadership domain executing, Gallup groups these nine strengths:

  1. Achiever
  2. Arranger
  3. Belief
  4. Consistency
  5. Deliberative
  6. Discipline
  7. Focus
  8. Responsibility
  9. Restorative

Strengths & Leadership

Author Tom Rath and consultant Barry Conchie in the book Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow found there are three keys to effective leadership—two focus on leader strengths.

  1. Know your strengths and invest in others’ strengths. The most effective leaders continuously invest in strengths.

  2. Hire people with the right strengths for your team. The most effective leaders surround themselves with the right people and maximize their team.

  3. Understand and meet your followers’ four basic needs: trust, compassion, stability, and hope. The most effective leaders understand their followers' needs.

Hiring Strengths

The second point on this list speaks to an area that sometimes gets overlooked. Should you hire people with strengths that counterbalance your weaknesses? After all, you can't be good at everything, and many experts argue the most direct path to balancing your strengths and weaknesses is to hire employees or contractors to add strength where you are weak. Says Geil Browning in Inc. Magazine, "To truly be a great leader, you can't just take advantage of your strengths. You also have to recognize your weaknesses."

Knowing Your Strengths & Weaknesses

To be sure, author of Now, Discover Your Strengths, Marcus Buckingham says that knowing your strengths is vital to being more productive and happier at work.

But best-selling author and speaker Michael Hyatt also asserts that knowing your weaknesses is just as important, "A strength is not simply something you are good at. It is also something that makes you feel strong. But the definition of a weakness is similar. You may well be good at an activity—or good enough—but it doesn't make you feel strong, in fact, you feel weak."

The fact is, all great leaders know and use their strengths, but also understand their weaknesses. What are your strengths? Where would you like to improve? Take our leadership quiz to find out!

Take the 9-question leadership quiz 


About the author

Gary Teagarden
Vistage Minnesota

Gary is an accomplished copywriter and B2B content marketing strategist. He’s written numerous articles and member stories for Vistage Minnesota since 2012.


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