Shortcomings can actually be a strength

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Just was reading this article about “resilience,” which is one of the bigger business buzzword terms of the last 10–20 years. I get that “resilience” is important, but it shouldn’t be something we have to call out within thought leadership or business journalism. Most humans are resilient just getting out of bed every morning. Relationships change, relationships to work change, pets die, parents die, people move, friends make fun of you and don’t realize it, you’re hungover, you eat badly, Game of Thrones is spoiled for you, your significant other doesn’t want to have sex, your flowers died, your car needs $4,000 of work, or whatever else. Life isn’t easy. We all just get out there and do our specific part as best we can.

A little ways down this article, there’s this section:

Resilient leaders take honest stock of where their skills and experiences have prepared them well for the difficulties they are facing, and what they may be legitimately lacking. They augment their shortfalls with the skills of others, and prepare themselves as best they can. Most importantly, they readily acknowledge those shortfalls to avoid the appearance of trying to hide them.

Another way to shorten that paragraph would be to just say “self-awareness.”

The common leader

First-world societies tend to be very focused on achievement (i.e. “show me the numbers” and how much money was made) and solutions, which mean they — by definition — tend to downplay fulfillment and good questions. This makes work, and relationships, hard for a lot of people. I’m not particularly good at either. More on that in a second.

Because of this achievement/solutions-focused of thinking about work, many who become managers are terrified of showing weakness. “Not knowing something” or “Admitting I don’t know it” would be weakness in their book, so they find different ways to hide what they don’t know. One of the most common plays here is the “cover your ass” move, although there are dozens of others.

Almost every reputable study of the last 10–15 years indicates that managers are terrified of actually leading and communicating with others, but do it because it’s the only way to get a higher salary. That’s a huge problem, but we’ll gloss that over for now.

What could a leader (or a regular worker) do better?

Admit their shortcomings more. Examples:

  • “No, I don’t know that answer.”
  • “I’ve never heard of that plan.”
  • “I’m unsure of the strategy here too.”
  • “My team doesn’t have the resources or skills to do that right now.”
  • “I’m bad at communicating.”
  • “I realize I need to be better at setting priorities.”
  • “I haven’t been managing my time well.”
  • “My plan for getting better with email is…”

See the difference between the bullshit and bluster of an answer like “We’ve always done it that way” vs. “You were right to call me out, I am terrible at time management and that’s hurting the team…?” It’s night and day.

Who would you rather work for/with?

The power of self-awareness on teams

Lots of research around teams has shown teams lacking in self-awareness get essentially nothing done.

Leaders too!

How you do this shortcomings thing

This is hard for many people to admit, because we all have a degree of self-delusion about where we’re at. Let me just rip the Band-Aid off for you and show you how this is done:

  • I got laid off from my last full-time job and I’m pretty sure my direct boss hated me by the end.
  • Got divorced this March and replace “boss” with “wife” and you can match that above sentence.
  • Drink too much.
  • Didn’t work out enough.
  • Ate out too much.
  • I make decent money but can get lazy on promoting myself/client stuff, which is how freelance people get money.
  • My financial literacy sucks monkey.
  • I can get angry too fast.
  • Some of my behaviors are inconsistent with each other.
  • Self-esteem ain’t super high.

Bam, list of shortcomings. Now go through and find themes. For me, it would be:

  • Drink less.
  • Keep it healthy.
  • Love yourself.
  • Try to grow a little bit every day.

So that’s what I started doing. The shortcomings — the failures — led directly to the actions. That’s how the system is supposed to work. You fuck up, you fix the fuck-up, and you move forward. Ever heard this ditty?

FAIL just means First Attempt In Learning.

Might be a little gag-inducing as a thought leader slide, but it’s true. It’s like, 130 percent true.

Advice to leaders re: shortcomings

Acknowledge them — in you, and in your team.

When someone tries to heap work on your squad and you know it’s gonna end terribly, don’t take it just to look good up the chain. Channel the shortcomings and re-propose the concept. Push back a little.

If a big project is coming up and you know you suck at communicating but this project will call for lots of it, look for ways to get better. Acknowledge the failings and better the failings. You know what that’s called? Non-balance sheet growth.

We literally all mess up. Every day. All of us. No one is exempt.

Unfortunately, many managers do not operate from a place of acknowledgement of this idea.

That causes confusion and frustration for everyone who has to interact with this team.

It doesn’t need to be that way, though.

Embrace the shortcomings. Use them to grow.

Isn’t that the human condition? Constant adaptation?

What else would you add on shortcomings as an advantage?

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