Everyone is bad at their job (why strengths matter)


Everyone is bad at their job. Put another way, we have many, many more weaknesses than we have strengths. And that’s okay.

What matters isn’t where you’re weak, but where you’re strong.

It's a recurring story for me whenever I've looked to the next level of leadership. In others I see strengths. In myself I see weaknesses.

No one is 100% ready before they take their next step. That could be becoming a first-time manager. Or leading a team of teams. Or becoming a leader of the business.

But here's what I've realised: where others are strong may be where I am weak. But I'm strongest in areas they aren't. It's precisely this "filling in the gaps" that makes teams succeed.

I'd challenge you to try on a new mindset. If you knew that your skills were enough... if no one is great at everything... if no one is fully ready for their next step... what's stopping you from trying?

You're better than you think

What makes others successful isn't what makes you successful.

You succeed through your own strengths, not by mimicking the strengths of others. As Buckingham and Goodall write in Nine Lies About Work, there is no single right way to lead. There is no "one true way" of leadership. Your leadership style is personal, combining your unique mix of skills. And it's that mix — not anyone else's — that makes you a successful leader.

Yet despite your evident talents, you may sometimes think you're not good enough. You fear being "found out". This is imposter syndrome talking. Imposter syndrome leads you to attribute your success to luck rather than your talents. You think of yourself as a failure despite evidence to the contrary. You feel like a fraud.

I've felt all of those.

Recognising that others have their own strengths, weaknesses, and humanity can help shift your mindset.

No one's good at everything

No one, not even the most successful, is good at everything. Those who are successful got there because they most effectively use their strengths. Can you do the same?

Realising that no one's good at everything makes success (whatever that means to you) seem a lot more achievable. Instead of spreading yourself wide, you fill in the gaps. Can you see the opportunities that fit your strengths? Where can you play that fits you perfectly?

This "filling in the gaps" makes leadership teams and organisations succeed. Great teams are diverse — in background, in perspective, in strengths. Team members rely on others where they are weak so that they can be strong.

Give yourself permission to not work on everything. Yes, shore up your weaknesses to not hold you back. Some fundamentals need a baseline level of competence — communication, follow-up, empathy. But don't aim for average across the board. Use what you're strongest at. Lead with those strengths.

People are just people, like you

I'm unreliable at times, inadequate in many areas, and occasionally brilliant in a small domain. You're probably the same. We're all more alike than we think.

The more I get to know people, the more I see their flaws. I intimately know my own flaws (while realising that list is incomplete). When I first see a leader in action, I see their best traits on display. But the more I work with them, the more I realise that they're fallible, not omniscient. That's a good thing.

We think people at higher levels of leadership are fundamentally "different" from us. Somehow better in an innate way. But once you’re in the leadership seat, you realise those leaders were the same as you.

As an individual contributor, I was impressed with how my manager coordinated a team of engineers to work together. But after becoming a team lead, that became like water. Then I was in awe of leaders who managed teams of teams, somehow keeping track of and redirecting scores of individuals. Yet that, too, eventually became business-as-usual.

I'm not saying that you jump into the next level of leadership unqualified. But you may want to reconsider what "qualified" means. A big part of leadership is taking the lead. Organisations need people who provide direction, create alignment, and inspire commitment. How can you use your strengths to achieve this?

Now the big caveat: I'm not, literally, saying that everyone is bad at their job. Leadership and management are skills that you acquire through education and experience. Some people have demonstrably higher skills than others. And there are certainly plenty of under-qualified managers who do a lot of harm to the people around them.

But if you're reading this, chances are that's not you.

What I am saying is this: despite all your weaknesses, your strengths are enough. Succeed as a leader by finding opportunities to lead with your unique strengths.

© Braden Moore.RSS