What's your biggest weakness?
If you've ever had a job interview, for any position from flipping burgers to running a PLC, there's a good chance that you'll have been asked that question. And there's a good chance too that you'll have answered it by not answering it.
You'll have said that you're a perfectionist or that you're too punctual or that you work too hard, as though too much of a good thing is a bad thing.
Lolly Daskal might say something different. An author and leadership coach, she'd probably be frank and admit what she really feared was her weakness. She might say: "I'm a little boring."
She isn't boring. But the reason that she thinks she might be boring is that while other people like to spend their spare moments leaping out of planes or skiing off mountains, Lolly reaches for a book. Her idea of fun is a couple of hours turning pages and underlining the important bits. In fact, she wakes up at 4.30 every morning and without checking her email or opening the Internet, she takes the next book from her bedside table, and starts reading. "It's the best time of the day," she says. "My phone isn't ringing... most people are dreaming, and I'm reading a book."
So a party conversation with Lolly about what she did last weekend might not produce too many moments of excitement or accounts of near-death experiences. But turn the subject to leadership issues or management or motivation, and you'll hear plenty of food for thought drawn from all of the latest writers on the topic. Her reading ranges from philosophy and psychology to management, and all the way round again. It quickly becomes clear that that "weakness," a preference for pages over adrenaline, is a huge strength.
It's no surprise then that the importance of that combination of weakness and strength is the topic of Lolly's latest book "The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You And Your Greatness." Instead of looking at how to be a better leader or what someone needs to do to be more successful, the book examines archetypes and explores who we are.
"We're the sum of all our parts. We're the sum of our weaknesses and our strengths and we have to recognize who we are at every given moment," says Lolly.
That's good advice not just because understanding our weaknesses can help to turn them into assets but also because job interviewers--and others--are no longer willing to accept non-answers about the state of your weaknesses. Talk to an investor now about raising funds for your start-up and they'll expect you to point out which kind of developer your founding team is missing or how your last three companies crashed and burned. The fact that you know where your gaps lie is a sign of strength. The fact that you've tried and failed--even multiple times--shows not that you're a loser but that you're a learner, and a trier.
We all have weaknesses and we all have strengths. And for all of us, those weaknesses can help to reinforce our strengths.