A Rarely Discussed Secret to Leadership Success

Two of the most common job interview questions are, “What are your strengths?” and “What are your weaknesses?” If you’ve ever sought advice on acing an interview, you may have been told to spin your weaknesses into positives. While this may fool impressionable hiring managers, there is no fooling yourself: to be successful, especially in a leadership role, you must know yourself. This begins with knowing your strengths and weaknesses.

Great! Now, where do you start?

Depending upon how much experience you have, you may already have a sense of your strengths and weaknesses. However, a sense is just that: a sense. Knowing yourself requires that you take a non-biased look in the proverbial mirror to reflect upon things that you already know about yourself, things that surprise you, and things that you’d like to improve about yourself. This can be a very difficult thing to do as identifying your strengths requires more than just 10 minutes of list-making.

Exploring Other Options

There are many tactics for getting to know your strengths and weaknesses.

Personality tests such as the Strengths Deployment Inventory, the Myers Briggs, or the Big 5, can be a helpful start to understanding yourself. However, you will learn the strengths and weaknesses of the personality type assigned to you after the test, rather than your own unique strengths and weaknesses.

Leadership Development Assessments, also known as 360’s, are a fantastic way to get feedback from your team on your strengths and weaknesses, however to be successful, these tests require two things:

  1. Anonymity – If your team members, especially those working for you, think that their answers could be traced back to them, there’s a high chance that they will only tell you what you want to hear, not what you need to hear. A remedy for this would be to hire a professional company to administer the survey, but that can come with a big price tag.
  2. Several Participants – For the most accurate and quantifiable results, experts recommend that at least four participants respond to each question. If you have a small team, this could be a challenge.

Lastly, a personal SWOT analysis is another well-known way to analyze your strengths and weakness. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. A SWOT analysis and can be valuable in gaining a full picture of what you have to offer, areas where you can improve, as well as outside factors that may be a professional risk to you. Taking the time to complete a SWOT analysis will ensure that you are fully self-aware.

Journaling – What To Write About

This brings us to the rarely discussed tactic for getting to know your strengths and weaknesses: Journaling.

This may initially sound strange, but hear me out:

  1. When you think of journals, you may think of 11-year-old girls doodling in a diary. However, while you can spill your hopes and dreams into it, the journal’s best purpose is to track your successes and failures, daily, rather than a place to vent emotions. With that said, don’t be afraid to say how you felt during these situations as seeing these emotions on paper will help you later when you can look back at the entire situation, objectively.
  2. You don’t have to be Benjamin Franklin to keep a journal. You don’t even need to have correct grammar. (Maybe that’s your first weakness?) You just need to be able to type on a keyboard or write words on paper.

Your journal will be the best teacher you’ve ever had. By recording your successes, missteps, and lessons from each day, what you learn will become even more solidified and clear in your mind, both as you write, as well as when you re-read your entries.

You may be curious what you should write about. What you write about will be up to you: you could write a high-level overview of your day, you could chose to write out all the details of each project you completed, the personal interactions you had, or you could just record the lessons and epiphanies you had that day, etc. The most important thing is that you write what you feel is important, and that you do it each workday for at least two weeks.

When I was working with a small team, every Monday I would create a Word document titled, “Epiphanies (Week #)” and in it I would store links to the most profound articles, quotes, and infographics that I came across during the week. At the end of each workday, I would return to that document and write down what I learned that week whether it were directly related to my profession, the industry my company was in, the industry our clients were in, or hard-learned professional lessons. Every Friday I would print out enough copies of the Epiphanies document to share with my colleagues and attach printed versions of the linked articles. This way, it was not only me who learned from my research and my actions, but the entire team.

A Word of Caution

Is this journal something that you wouldn’t mind associates coming across when you place it on your desk, save it on the company drive, or create a blog entry? If not, be careful where you keep/publish it, especially if it contains sensitive information. For example, a Word document with sensitive information may need to be password protected or a physical journal may need to be locked in your desk drawer.

A Clear Picture

Keeping a journal for at least two weeks straight will help you form a clearer picture of your strengths and weaknesses.

After two weeks has passed, go back and review your previous entries. When reviewing your entries ask yourself, “How did a certain task or situation make me feel?” You may notice that you are more calm in situations involving people, but more stressed out in situations involving technology, or that you seek out individual projects rather than group projects. Armed with your subsequent knowledge of how these situations actually turned out and what you were writing about while knee-deep in the thick of things, you will be able to draw strong conclusions of your strengths and weaknesses in various situations.

This knowledge will help you become a better leader by building your team to best suit these strengths and offset your weaknesses.

Have you ever kept a business journal? If so, what did it teach you about yourself?

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