Weaknesses at Work: Try to Eradicate Them or Accept Them?

By Elizabeth End posted 04-04-2016 07:03


Everyone knows and talks about “job fit.” You want to find a position that is a good fit for you, and employers want to fill an open position with someone who is a good fit for the role. It is common sense, but in reality, it is not so easy to fit the right person to the right job. What should be done when the employee in a particular role partially fits it? She has several talents and skills that are a good match for the role, but there are some areas in which she is lacking. Should the employee and the manager focus on developing the employee’s weak spots, or should they accept them and develop ways around them? Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, in the book, First Break All the Rules – What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, argue that it is a waste of time to try to develop talents in an employee that he/she does not already possess.

Buckingham and Coffman use the mantra:

“People don’t change that much.

Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out.

Try to draw out what was left in.

That is hard enough.”


I should also mention that Buckingham and Coffman distinguish between talents and skills; skills are the how-to’s of a role, and are capabilities that can be transferred from one person to another. Skills can and should be developed for every employee in every role. An example of a skill would be the ability to use Excel or Word. Talents, on the other hand, are described as, “a recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied.” Buckingham and Coffman assert that most people’s talents and approaches to life do not change much after age fifteen. If your employee does not have the talent of problem solving, he/she will not be able to develop it even if you throw examples, training, and incentives towards it. Although the intent is to help the person learn to problem solve, the end result will likely be a frustrated employee and time that could have been more productively spent.


What Buckingham and Coffman are saying makes a lot of sense. It is true that people don’t change much, and it is a hard task to develop and magnify the talents that people already possess. Why then am I having such a hard time letting go of the idea that it is important to try to develop and find new talents? I think I am struggling with it because it feels so limiting. The talents that I have currently are the only ones I will have for the rest of my life? That seems somewhat sad and boring to me. Just because I don’t have the talent of persuasion now means I’ll never have it? I should have tried harder and developed that talent when I worked those lemonade stands as a kid, I guess. I was actually a little mad when I read that talents and approaches to life do not change much after age fifteen. I was thinking to myself, “how ridiculous,” but after a short reflection, I realized that most of the changes between now and fifteen really are changes in my skill set versus my talents.


I’m interested to hear what other people think about this.

  • Do we have potential and the ability to acquire new talents in our post-teenage lives?
  • Or should we be comfortable with the talents we have and try to put ourselves in as many situations as possible that make the most of those talents?
  • Do you think your manager will be accepting if you tell him/her that you just aren’t a team player and never will be because it is not one of your relating talents?
  • How can or does your manager work around your “non-talents”?
  • Has your role or your responsibilities ever been adapted to emphasize your talents?
  • Is there more that can be done, or is the next step simply finding a different role that is a better fit?


For more information on First Break All the Rules – What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently and other great business books to read, please see the December 2015 Future Fellows article, “Beyond the Math: Recommended Reading for Actuaries.”



04-22-2016 14:54

Learn skills and habits to overcome weakness

While I agree it's a lot easier to excel in our natural strengths, I'm convinced we can habitually practice new skills to overcome our natural weaknesses. For example, persuasion is a longstanding natural weakness for me.  I recently took a Coursera.org course on persuasion (Leadership through Social Influence) to help overcome this.  The professor insisted persuasive ability is a skill that can be learned--even if it's not a natural talent.  As a result of taking the course, I've been more cognizant of different persuasive methods being used on me.  I've also been more confident when trying to persuade others.

04-04-2016 15:28

Sounds like a good read!

I have heard it said that it is best for people to work in their strengths because that is where they will really excel. Related to the same thoughts as in First Break All the Rules I have seen recommendations to not try to improve your weaknesses too much because the effort is not worth it and you won't really make as much improvement as focusing on your strengths.

I definitely think that we should try and put ourselves in as many positions as possible where we can use our talents. I think, many times, that our talent is also where we are most enthusiastic about our work.

In my opinion, it is imporant for a manager to try and plug their team members into places where each person's talents can be utilized most efficiently to get the job done. Granted, this is far easy said than done!