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Play To Your Strengths

Michael Jordan is arguably the greatest basketballer of all time.

But despite his success on the court, he had remained passionate about baseball his entire life and was motivated to pursue the sport after the murder of his baseball-loving late dad, James Jordan, in July of 1993.

Jordan first retired from basketball in October of 1993, shortly after closing out a three-peat with the Chicago Bulls against my beloved Phoenix Suns.

He went on to play baseball in the minor leagues for the Birmingham Bruins, the Chicago White Sox’s affiliate, where his batting average was .202, batted in 51 runs and stole 30 bases. The league-wide batting average in the major league is between .250 and .275, so Jordan wasn’t terrible, but he was below average and from a superstar, and in his early 30s at the time, he was never going to become one.

So after a lackluster year in the minor leagues, he returned to the NBA where he won another three straight championships with the Chicago Bulls, topping the league with 30.4 points per game in his first full season back in 1996.

He was again playing to his strengths.

He wrapped up his career with 6 NBA titles, 6 MVP awards, 14 NBA All-Star appearances, and 2 Olympic gold medals.

Mitigate Your Weaknesses or Capitalize on Your Strengths?

In life, it is indeed noble to address our weaknesses, particularly if those weaknesses are preventing us from getting to where we want to be.

But it is important to reflect on whether those weaknesses must be addressed or whether we’d be better served by spending that time leveraging our strengths.

We typically spend most of our time on our weaknesses

The thing is, we each have our own predispositions towards excelling in certain areas.

As Tom Rath, author of Strengths-Based Leadership, puts it, great leaders know their strengths. “If you focus on people’s weaknesses, they lose confidence”, he writes.

Working to your strengths not only sets you up for faster success but creates a motivating positive loop, a virtuous cycle that sets you up for even more success.

This isn’t an argument to forget your weaknesses, but to spend most of your time — Roth argues 75% on your strengths, and 25% addressing weaknesses.

Typically, when it comes to starting a business, we might at first try and do everything ourselves — marketing, sales, strategy, product design, product development, creating content, networking, and so on. But if our strengths lie in marketing, we should be doubling down on that strength, because each hour we spend away from it on stuff that we’re fundamentally not that good at is robbing us of the rewards we could otherwise generate.

Far better to hire people to do the things that you aren’t so good at — something that one can do quickly and cheaply through platforms such as Fiverr — and focus on your strengths.

It’s like having two investment options. One that generates 10% ROI, and the other that generates 5% ROI. If I know that these returns are guaranteed I would be silly to split my money across the two, and would essentially be worse off than I had put all of my money in the 10% option.

Strengths-Based Leaders

As Roth puts it, “the best way to lead is by understanding your unique strengths profile and developing yourself based on those strengths”.

This echoes Richard Branson who, on his success, says that “I surround myself with people smarter than me, I empower them with a worthwhile mission, give them the tools and resources they need to succeed and get the hell out of the way”.

The research also shows that well-rounded individuals tend to make mediocre leaders.

Talent x Investment = Strength

According to Gallup’s research, we are 6-times as likely to be engaged by our jobs if we’re strengths-aligned.

Not only that, but their research found that if we’re using our strengths each day, we are 3-times more likely to report having an excellent quality of life. This might be because we’re not constantly feeling like we’re rolling a boulder uphill and that we are living a more aligned life.

We are also 15% less likely to quit our jobs.

Knowing Your Strengths

When we focus less on becoming well-rounded and more on becoming better at what we’re already good at, sparks start to fly.

Of course, you need to know what your strengths are in order to double down on them. Most people lack the requisite self-awareness to even know what their true strengths are. Nowadays, there are a number of online surveys that can help you to identify your strengths — particularly your soft strengths.

You might try Gallup’s survey which retails for about US$50, or if you’re looking for a free alternative, check out the High5Test.

I took the test and scored a 5. According to this test, I am a philomath who likes to learn new things and stay curious, a self believer who doesn’t let uncertainty bother him, a strategist who sees the big picture, a deliverer who gets things done, and an optimist whose objective is to bring a positive spirit.

Call to Action

  • Identify your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Spend 75% of your time improving your strengths, and 25% on your must-improve weaknesses.
  • Delegate what you’re just no good at, and don’t need to improve at.
  • Find work, or build a business, that leverages your strengths