Are today’s leaders introspective? Self-reflective? Perhaps. But do they regularly concern themselves with what qualities they might be lacking, or second-guess the positive traits they possess? Probably not. People of influence have not reached success by falling into the weakness trap. They instead focus on leveraging their inherent gifts.
One experience that drove this point home with me was my past business partnership with a large Japanese trading company. As CEO of the joint venture, I spent a good portion of my time in our Tokyo office working with my Japanese partners, and had the opportunity to study the Japanese business culture and approach to human resources. I noticed that Japanese corporations took a much more dedicated, nurturing approach than did US businesses. To both employer and employee, the hiring of an individual was seen as a lifetime commitment.
I recall asking Japanese managers how they handled employees whose weaknesses became apparent and impeded performance. Their response was swift and sensible: When you hire an individual for life, they explained, you must always determine and work with all the strengths that individual has. The various gaps will come out in time, they added, but the more you concentrate on what that employee can perform well, the easier it is to find him or her a productive, satisfying place within your company.
Anyone who has ever competed against Japanese companies will tell you they are formidable and able to win business the world over. Yet unlike US companies that shed workers that become expendable because their skills and talents are no longer a perfect match, Japanese companies manage to find productive utilizations for such employees.
How? By focusing on each employee’s strengths and by concentrating solely on how best to deploy those strengths. In the Japanese system, evaluations of weaknesses are not very useful. So should it be with you. As it is for Japanese employers, your employment of yourself is for your entire career; identifying and cultivating your strengths is the surest way for you to compete successfully.
Everyone has their own bundle of gifts — the abilities, skills, talents and qualities unique to them. Identifying your personal attributes and recognizing what you have to offer is the first step; these assets constitute your career strengths. Cultivating them and sharing these qualities, instead of dwelling on your weak points, will ultimately bear fruit and pave the way to stronger leadership.
Doing so will also bring out the real you. Better for you to always conduct business as your real self, presenting your strengths, rather than in a contrived or artificial manner designed to hide your weaknesses. Attempting to package yourself in a particular way or representing a brand image of yourself which appeals to you sends a poor signal. Others will sense it immediately, and it will fail to inspire the trust and confidence in you that you seek from them.
As you arrive at the true you, banish at all times any competitive comparison or preoccupation with flaws. Every hour invested in measuring your qualities or status against others is an hour stolen from setting yourself further ahead.
So what do we do after we identify our marvelous and wonderful personal strengths? Certainly the next step would not be to brand them or spin them into some sort of acceptable or salable package. That is like gilding the lily with tar. Instead, understand that your strengths hold incredible value — they are the seeds. Roll up your sleeves, dig in, and make them grow.
Keith Danko is the founder of Witherspoon Partners, a leading player in the alternative asset industry. He has over two decades of experience building and managing businesses, most notably restructuring and serving as CEO of ACAM Advisors. He also served as CEO of CQS US and as an executive director of Goldman Sachs, where he built the firm’s international asset-backed securities business. A Duke University graduate with a Harvard MBA, he is the author of “Within Your Grasp,” has written extensively on trends and careers in alternative assets, and has authored the white paper “Portable Alpha: An Updated Perspective.”
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