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How To Turn Weaknesses Into Strengths

This article originally appeared in Forbes.

Public speaker and author Dave Rendall has a book called The Freak Factor, which presents the idea that your weaknesses can be flipped to become your strengths. It’s all in how you view what you think are weaknesses and how you treat them. Rendall explains that rather than taking action in spite of your weaknesses, you should find ways in which they can actually be assets.

Rendall tours the country encouraging entrepreneurs and leaders to adopt this mindset. I’ve sat through his presentation a few times, and each time I’ve come out with new takeaways and a new perspective on how to bolster your strengths and weaknesses at the same time. Here are my top three takeaways from Rendall’s teachings and how I’ve applied them in my own life.

Change the situation, not the person.

I say all the time that you can’t really change people. You can compromise or accept them as they are, but you can’t “fix” them. However, you can craft the situation to make it a better fit for that person (without forcing it, of course).

I’ve seen many companies make the mistake of promoting someone from within to a position they’re just not meant for. An example is putting a really good salesperson into a sales manager position. However, what makes them a good salesperson doesn’t necessarily make them a good sales manager. Once you make this mistake, it can be hard to reverse it and move the person back to the place where they were more comfortable and successful. So, rather than forcing them into a position that’s outside their wheelhouse, get them the things they need to be better at what they already do best. In other words, try looking at their strengths and finding the fit that’s best for both them and you. They’ll be happier and more engaged, and your company will run a whole lot more smoothly.

Surround yourself with other strengths.

Rendall points out how, from age five through 22, we are told that it’s considered cheating to hire someone to do for you what you’re not good at doing. It’s drilled so far into our brains that by the time we make it to adulthood and the business world, we’re afraid to do just that. However, that thinking is actually completely counterintuitive in business because — let’s face it — it’s the only way that any of us can be successful.

No profitable business runs without the help of at least some other soul somewhere along the line, and those people that help us are almost always filling in a skill set that we don’t possess ourselves. Why else would we ask for their help?

I learned this lesson firsthand when my company NationLink Wireless was taking off. I nearly ran myself into the ground working around the clock and taking on way too many responsibilities. I needed to build a team that I trusted to take things off my plate and run with them — maybe even do a better job than I was doing. As soon as I started delegating, the company, and my sanity, were so much better off for it.

So when you’re building a team, think about your strengths and weaknesses. What are you not great at or what characteristics do you lack that you need someone else to fulfill? Conversely, what do you already have or know that would render another person with this same exact skill set useless? It’s almost like putting together a puzzle. Find the people who fill in the gaps and complete the picture of your ideal company. 

Cultivate your weaknesses.

The key thing that Rendall says is that your weaknesses are part of who you are, and you should embrace them and amplify them. What he means is that in the same way that you can’t easily improve on your weaknesses, you also can’t easily get rid of them, so why not accept them?

For example, I am a very straightforward, almost abrupt individual. My demeanor is intense and can often be seen as alienating. I get it. After hearing from my team that it was just too much, I promised I would become a softer, slower, more caring version of myself. So, for about six months, I did. I listened way more than I ever had. I let people make way more mistakes than I ever did before. I allowed things to go on and on without speaking up or correcting the direction. I hated this whole time period and, as it turns out, so did my team.

At the last leadership meeting of the year they finally said, “Please come back. We need the direct, honest, abrupt, straightforward leader we used to have.” They felt like they were better off with my challenging style than without it. It’s a weakness of mine that is also a strength, or it’s a strength that is also a weakness. Either way, me being me may not always make people happy, but it sure does make them think, act and grow.

As Jean Cocteau is often credited with saying, “Whatever the public criticizes in you, cultivate. It is you.”

This is something we all have the capacity to do, but it’s easier said than done because we are constantly advised to suppress those less-than-desired characteristics. The key is to sincerely harness your weaknesses and make them something constructive, something that you can use to your advantage or at least cleverly work around. From there, nothing can stop you from reaching any goal in sight.