Why playing to your weaknesses can be a strategic business move

Putting energy into the areas in which your team lacks skills can be beneficial to your business in the long-term, writes Stan Gordon.

We are constantly told that we should only play where our strengths lie. As time is of the essence in most business contexts, this makes perfect sense. Plus, when there are only so many hours in a day, putting effort into our weaknesses seems both counterproductive and at large time wasting. But, what if we took a moment to step back and consider an alternative to only playing to our strengths?

It might sound odd, but if you think about the benefits of playing to a weakness, you’ll find that there are indeed some key payoffs to putting some attention into areas we are weak in before we’ve written them off. I’m a firm believer that people can, regardless of educational background or training, learn and expand their skillset; it’s all down to motivation and belief in self ability.

In a business scenario especially, encouraging your team to expand their skillsets and focus on some areas they may find more challenging can take some time to negotiate. A business culture of learning is paramount. By using an 80/20 model – where 80% of the time we focus on our strengths and 20% of the time we focus on our weaknesses – we can begin to extend our skill capacity and develop more engaged and resilient teams for the future.

The salient point to remember is that this is an exercise in team development. It is of course critical for any team growth, and in turn business growth. For the majority of businesses, people are the biggest investment. So it makes sense to put time and effort into their development, ability and self-awareness.

When defining success, Winston Churchill once said: “Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm”, and this mantra is absolutely spot on! Even more so if you are prepared to tackle areas of weakness head-on.

So for those ready to step up to the challenge and rethink the things you’ve thrown in the ‘too hard’ basket, here are some points to consider.


Fresh thinking and approach

If we continue to put our efforts into only the activities we’re good at (within a business of course), we run the risk of gaining the same results with the same approach. Business can and does get stale and becomes the ‘same-same’ old thing… which is less than ideal. And while it might feel unnatural, paying attention to areas of weakness; by working proactively will ensure this work doesn’t become a drain.

So how can a business leader bring about this change? By using Elton Mayo’s theory of motivation (Hawthorne effect) rather than simply moving people off one project and placing them on another, encourage your team to have a go at new things. This allows team structures to be shaken-up and avoids a culture of complacency. New eyes bring a fresh approach, new ideas and wisdom, where it may not have been before. Teamwork really is about collaborating!

Extending skills and comfort zones

It’s natural for individuals to place efforts and focus where they feel comfortable. Given that people thrive and respond best to positive feedback, this makes complete sense. Now take the opposite of the equation: trying new things can be daunting and scary, and I think I’m pretty spot on when I say, no one likes the feeling of failure…

When a business or team member avoids work or situations where they feel uncomfortable, it can mean we limit our skills for the future.

In any environment, it’s super important to cultivate a culture of ongoing learning. Encourage your team to want to improve their weaknesses. As a leader, communication is key. So start by asking where your team wants to explore their skill gaps and make sure there’s organic motivation for this. This might also include matching these goals with the business’ needs, so as to fill skill gaps too. And remember to think about what will motivate your team to get there. Consider incentivising your key players, (not necessarily with money) reward them (a day off for a spa treatment is worth several times more than the cost of the spa treatment)… they’ll thank you for it, and you’ll get so much more out of your people.

Re-defining weaknesses and uncovering new talents

The word weakness doesn’t lend the opportunity to feel excited about exploring it further, does it? There’s nothing like a negative word to de-motivate people.

No one wants to admit they have areas that aren’t perfect, but refocusing what ‘weakness’ means can help change your team’s attitudes. Why not approach it as a skill-extension rather than a weakness?

Reality knows that we all have areas in which we are better than others. That’s just life! When we are time-poor, playing to our strengths is logical. However, by using some time to explore a weaknesses you can uncover talents you didn’t know existed. You can extend the scope of your business offer and your team will excel in unison.

Putting forward real effort to this end means that your team will become much more inquisitive and start to remove the blinkers they may have had on. Change your system to one that no longer relies on assumptions of already decided strengths, but rather, one that puts forward a culture that allows greater movement and skill transfer. At the end of the day, if you have the drive to succeed and belief that you can, the world is your oyster!

Preparing for a rainy day

While it’s every manager’s secret wish that the people we invest our time into will stay with the company forever, it’s not a realistic assumption. If we only invest time and resources in areas in which people continue to excel, and only in certain team members, there is no safe guard when the universe throws a curveball. Your business will be left vulnerable.

Commit and take action toward the training of your wider team (not just senior leaders) in areas where they lack expertise; leadership, technical skills and communication skills. What’s left? A built up talent pool, ready to tackle anything and hopefully, a more resilient and widely skilled, motivated and engaged workforce.


Stan Gordon
BY Stan Gordon ON 21 October 2014
Stan Gordon is the CEO of Franchised Food Company, the umbrella organisation encompassing the brands Cold Rock Ice Creamery, Trampoline, Pretzel World, Nutshack and Mr Whippy.