Practical analysis for investment professionals
06 April 2016

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?

That question generated the most debate among experts during a career management Twitter chat hosted 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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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.

Image credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Jorgenmac

About the Author(s)
Julia VanDeren

Julia VanDeren, manager, career services at CFA Institute, serves as the subject matter expert in career management skills, curating and developing career resources for members and program candidates. Previously, she served CFA Institute as career services representative, managing the CFA Institute JobLine (now Career Center) and Career Centre (now Career Tools) resources. VanDeren holds a BA from the University of Virginia and an MPA from Virginia Commonwealth University.

6 thoughts on “Career Development: Build Your Strengths or Fix Your Weaknesses?”

  1. Simon says:

    It is your strengths that will get promoted, recommended, rewarded, talked about. The more time you spend ‘in your essence’ the faster success and happiness will show up.

    Have a read of my article 3-4-3 (http://simontyler.com/simple-wisdom/simple-notes/44/) – of the notional 10 things you are up to, 3 are the essence of you (be there more), 3 are not on your path (see the article for ways of managing these. And the 4 in the middle are for you to learn with and from.

    Keep it simple… Simon

  2. Antonios says:

    Focusing on your weaknesses is not necessarily wrong that being said if you have a finite number of hours during the day you want to spend them on what gives you the most benefit. The thing with weaknesses, the more you spend time on them the more stuff you will find that needs fixing. That holds people back from achieving their potential.
    Most of us spend most of our life focusing on our weaknesses and that immobilizes us. Coaches that seek to bring true transformation for their clients, and not just quick fixes, have to see their clients as whole and full of potential and hold them true to that potential.

    1. Antonio Scarbachio says:

      Very true. Love was my weakness. Trust was my weakness. Ill have to work on that. Loving someone too much can kill you in the end. Trusting someone too much can even be worse. Not sure if getting married can be an option if i have to work on those weaknesses because without those weaknesses, whats the point. Remember, dont ever take kindness from anyone as a weakness. Those who are kind always prosper in the end. If they dont prosper, see rule #1. Repeat after me.

  3. Julia Wexler says:

    Clearly a balanced approach is wise; BUT considering the qualifications of the role is a key variable in selecting the best approach.

    If your role is out of line with your strengths, then you can work very long and hard trying to boost yourself up when in fact it may be wiser to select a role that aligns with your core strengths and your values.

    Aligning core skills of the role to intrinsic strengths of the individual – then working to continually improve/evolve in the role by learning and growing; all the while being aware of your deficiencies and tackling them simultaneously. This makes good leaders.

    1. Antonio Scarbachio says:

      Very true again, but now look at it this way. Followers alway follow when they have someone who understands the weaknesses they possess. They follow a leader who isnt perfect. They feel hopeless then. A leader who has a few issues for example Bill Clinton, look at how he is and was followed because of his weaknesses. Nobody is perfect.

  4. Vijay says:

    Its a very apt article suggesting the imbalances in the diverse mindsets of men and women. Need to complement Kim Ann Curtt in bringing the psychological thinking of women focusing more on the requisites than focusing on the strengths avoiding them to make a step towards the larger frame of things… This if organizations focus and can inculcate in their workforce would see a bright balance between men and women which today’s world is eagerly looking forward….!!!!

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