Strengths and Weaknesses: Teaching Squirrels to Fly, aka Ways to Waste Time & Talent

Strengths and Weaknesses: Teaching Squirrels to Fly, aka Ways to Waste Time & Talent

Have you ever stopped to consider your strengths and weaknesses? If you answered “yes,” how far have you gone? Far enough to really understand what you’re wired for? Far enough to identify how the people around you are wired – your team members, family members, customers, you name it? Far enough to go back to 7th grade?

If that last one tripped you up, stay with me: imagine yourself in the 7th grade, returning home to show your parents your report card. You hand it to them. Gulp. They look down and see 2 As, 2 Bs, and…1 D.

Which of these grades do your parents want to talk about? If you’re like 97% of the people in my seminars, you’ll answer, “The D, of course!”

So here’s my question to you, your parents, all of us: Why? Why this focus on the negative, on failures and weaknesses? Why don’t we spend our time discussing the As and the Bs of life?

While we humans tend to obsess over our challenge areas, the teeter-totter of strengths and weaknesses is heavily weighted in favor of the strengths.

Parents, educators, sports coaches, pastors, scout leaders, counselors, bosses, friends, and many others – including ourselves – are usually well intentioned when they focus on our so-called weaknesses instead of our strengths.

But what’s going on here?

Would you focus on pushing an eagle to become a better tree climber, just because he’s not naturally good at it—all while you agonize over trying to teach a squirrel to fly? In the animal world, this approach to strengths and weaknesses sounds completely ridiculous.

And it’s ridiculous and ineffective in our world as well. Because the “ROI” on investing in your strengths blows any effort to “overcome” weaknesses out of the water.

Yet how often do we do we focus ourselves, our people, even (perhaps most tragically) our loved ones on weaknesses?

Imagine, instead, what would happen if you pushed that eagle to be a better flyer and helped that squirrel become a better climber. If you supported and encouraged strengths rather than focusing energy and attention on weaknesses. Think of the heights every squirrel and eagle and human could achieve!

Strengths and Weaknesses in the Human Realm

Would you send Einstein to school to organize his desk? Or set him to work on advanced physics?

Would you train Walt Disney in organization and hound him to arrive at meetings on time? Or set him free from a structured day to walk in the park and dream up ideas?

These questions are easy to answer, because we see the results that have already been achieved through a strengths-based focus. Yet every day, we spend time and energy getting worked up over the equivalent of Einstein’s disorganized desk—when we’re all much better off because he focused on the work his brain was built for.

To top it off, we allow others to get us focused on our own weaknesses as well, when we should keep our eye on the natural attributes that will make us great.

Take me for example, because I – like everyone else – have strengths and weaknesses.

Exhibit A: I’m bad at design stuff. Really bad. If you don’t buy it, just ask my wife what my wardrobe looked like when she met me. She’ll be very descriptive. And you’ll probably laugh. Out loud.

However, I’m also great at seeing and understanding people—relating to them, encouraging them, and helping. It’s what I’m wired for.

So what did I do? Bury my head in fashion magazines and labor to overcome my color blindness? Of course not.

I quickly learned to rely on others for all design-y things and became an executive coach focused on people-management issues. And as a result of that choice—as a result of celebrating and embracing the fact that the teeter-totter of strengths and weaknesses naturally favors power-alley attributes—I’ve been able to make a big difference in the lives of people and the performance of companies.

All while having a great time.

As for my wardrobe, well, let’s just say that I quit shopping for myself a long, long time ago. Happily so.

20 thoughts on “Strengths and Weaknesses: Teaching Squirrels to Fly, aka Ways to Waste Time & Talent

  1. Liz - October 12, 2012 at 10:40 am

    I love this thinking Bill! It is such a challenge to act on.

  2. hire movers by the hour - June 25, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    Heya! I’m at work browsing your blog from my new iphone!
    Just wanted to say I love reading through your blog and look forward to all your posts!
    Carry on the fantastic work!

    • Bill Munn - July 8, 2014 at 1:12 pm

      So glad you enjoyed it, and thank you for sharing your feedback. I always love to hear from readers!


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