Purposeful Leaders Understand Their Strengths AND Their Weaknesses

Originally published
Originally published: 8/1/2013

How to determine what you're good at and where you need help

Purposeful leaders understand who they are. This is very important because before you can lead, you have to be comfortable in your own skin. That means you have to have a realistic picture of your strengths, weaknesses and skill sets. Let’s look at some practical steps to help identify “who you are” and where you may need others on your team to step in to help fill the gaps.

What are you good at?

This is the critical starting point. I recommend finding a personality index or profile you can take to help you in this area. There are many to choose from, and I find them very accurate. One example can be found at 

If you don’t start with this step, you could become the type of business owner who, for example, has a flare and skill set for sales, but ends up burying himself or herself in accounting or inventory, where he or she has weak skill sets. In this scenario, you are not utilizing your strength in sales by spending time where you think you need to be – in accounting, which is one of your weaknesses.

Using this example, a more effective business owner would hire an accountant, or outsource the accounting, and spend their time out in the field selling. You lose twice if you don’t. First, you are probably the best salesperson in the company: any time and effort spent away from selling is a lost opportunity for additional revenue. Second, odds are, the better you are at sales, the worse you are at accounting, which might make you the worst accountant the company could ever have. Don’t compound the problem. Figure out where you’re the best and focus there.

What are your weaknesses?

Once you know your strengths, it is really much easier to be honest with what your weaknesses are. I’ll use myself as an example. I am not an overly social person. Quite frankly, I do not enjoy going to large gatherings and meeting new people. As much as I try, I don’t enjoy it, and I am not any good at it. Well guess what? My job requires that I go to social engagements and meet people. I just can’t use the excuse, “I am not any good at this, so I am not going to do it.” Knowing that this isn’t my strength, I make sure, whenever possible, to take my lovely, outgoing wife, Denae, with me. Denae can walk into a room full of people and meet them all. She is outgoing and engaging, and people love her. As for me, I follow along with her and make small talk when the conversation comes my way. And it works great.

My point is this: find people who will help you fill the areas where you are not the best. Just remember: you can only be great at your strengths, not your weaknesses.

Purposeful delegation

The best way to explain this is with the help of Peter Ducker’s book, The Effective Executive. Purposeful leaders understand that delegation means doing what you should be doing, not unloading what you don’t want to do. They are very purposeful with their time.

I remember a coaching session I had with a young manager several years ago. He was frustrated with how the parts boxes were being aligned on the shelves, so he took it upon himself to go through all of the parts boxes, clean them up and organize them correctly. I asked him how this was going to make his people and his department any better. He said, “I don’t know, but it will be done right and the way I want it done.” I told him I was certain there was no one in our company who could do a better job at this task, but asked if it was really where he should be spending his time. The obvious answer was no, and he agreed.

This happens to us every day. We are faced with small things that we want done the way we want them done. That’s a major waste of organizational time. Time must be used to benefit our strengths and used effectively if we are to maximize our effectiveness as leaders.

I want to make sure I am clear on a couple of items and avoid any confusion. We do not condone avoiding important tasks because someone says, “It is not in my strengths.” This is not an excuse to ignore critical tasks. It is actually just the opposite: greater self-awareness makes you want to find the resources that make you better in areas where you are not the best.

Another area that could be a potential pitfall is the attitude that, “If I don’t do it myself, it won’t get done right.” Don’t get me wrong here: you still need to hold people to high standards and expectations, just as my young manager did. He went and found someone he felt was competent enough to do what he wanted done the way he wanted it done. No free passes here, either.

In the end, purposeful leaders understand who they are, who they are not, and where to effectively spend their time.

Wade Mayfield is president of Thermal Services Inc., Omaha, Neb.

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