I came upon a colleague’s post the other day about her all time least favourite interview questions. She’s in recruitment and I can just imagine how frustrating it must be. Anyway, a few of them made me uncomfortable, but none more than the old classic,
“What would you say is your biggest weakness?”
Remember that beauty?
Eye-roll. I mean, how the heck is anyone supposed to answer that? I’m sweating just thinking about it. But it got me thinking about weaknesses. And particularly weaknesses in leadership roles.
The more I analysed it, the more I realised how murky that line is––what’s a strength and what’s a weakness. And how much things have changed over the past few decades in leadership roles. And what may have once been considered a weakness, I would now put up there in the “strengths” list in a heartbeat.
It’s an interesting exercise, so I thought I might try and string together a semi-cohesive little list of what was weak is now strong. See if it resonates with you.
So here goes.
Once perceived leadership weaknesses that are actually strengths:
Who remembers the eighties? We’ve all seen enough Michael Douglas films to know that business tycoon in the eighties was not successful because of the amount of the size of their gratitude list, or how many “give back” projects, or sweet deeds they did. It took guts, balls (literally and figuratively) and an “I’m not here to make friends,” attitude to get to the top and for people to follow you. The problem is, guys, in that reality, they weren’t following out of respect. They were following because they were scared for their life.
Cut to now. There is absolutely no reason or situation today where a leader would be seen to be acting this way. In fact, kindness and empathy today is considered a major strength in a leader. With our diverse workplaces it takes a person who can empathise with many to successfully lead a good team.
Don’t mistake kindness for being a pushover though. A good leader still has to remain steadfast and disciplined. But they don’t have to “chop heads” to get attention.
Richard Branson dropped out of high school. Case closed.
Not having any formal further education was once seen upon as a weakness. Job roles were pretty clearly divided between the haves and have-nots. But that’s no longer the case. It’s the golden era of the entrepreneur and this means we’re seeing droves of people in leadership roles that aren’t there because of their alumni buddies or their big-ticket degree. They’re at the top because they belong there.
In fact, some of the qualities of leaders without formal education now far outweigh the former. Strengths such as, innovation, drive, autonomy, and networking are all qualities you might find in a leader that has gone their own way. And I can tell you, these are very strong qualities for a good leader.
Delegation is integral for leaders. It’s not a sign you’re lazy, it’s not a sign you’re incapable, and it’s definitely not a sign you’re weak. The complete opposite!
Sure, you may have gotten to the top by working all the jobs, being everywhere and doing everything. And this may be a hard habit to break. Rolling up your sleeves and getting dirty could be appealing to you. But the reality is, you cannot be a good leader if you are too busy doing data entry because Sally didn’t turn up today. Your job is to be the team’s vision, spirit, drive. To motivate and push forward. To do this, you must learn to delegate responsibilities.
A good way to determine if this is one of your strengths, is to imagine you had to take yourself away from the office for a week, in an emergency. You haven’t had time to brief everyone or check everything twice. Will the place still run without you for a week? Or do you break into hives imagining how little will get done? If the answer is the latter, you are not flexing your delegation strengths enough. And this, my friend is your weakness.
So, there you have it, three once-upon-a-weakness, that are now considered strengths in leadership roles. How do you weigh up?
Can you think of any others that come to mind?
Written by HR Gurus Managing Partner, Jessy Warn.