Written by Raghav Ghosh, a second year student from IIM Bangalore and an alumnus of St. Stephens College. He was previously a consultant at Monitor and spent a year at Pradan
“He told me I should stick to my strengths and not try to do something completely different. That was one chat I will always remember.” – Virat Kohli on what Sachin Tendulkar’s said to him before his first test series in Australia in 2011; taken from Kohli’s article in Wisden India Almanack 2014. Kohli went on to score his maiden test century in the 3rd test – the only century scored by an Indian in the series.
Sachin’s words to a 23 year-old Kohli are particularly striking. After all, this is the age when the infatuation to be ‘completely different’ from your own fundamental self is perhaps the greatest. One can think of many reasons why this happens – family expectations, peer pressure, un-channeled ambition and insecurity, to name a few. Competitive environments further fuel such reactions.
As a result, we spend more time working on our weaknesses that we see as obstacles to achieving that false, held up ideal of being someone else, than our strengths that hold the potential to becoming our true, great selves. Corporate culture too reinforces this – most feedback discussions focus on areas of development, on what you need to do to become that stellar colleague who made partner in 5 years; few invest in identifying your strengths and how you could play on them to chart a different growth path maybe.
I found a blog online that sums up the take-away quite well: “You are far better off capitalizing on what you do best, instead of trying to offset your weakness. Making a weakness less of a weakness is simply not as good at being the best you possibly can be at something” (source: blog by Paul Brown, co-author of Just Start published by Harvard Business Review Press, http://www.forbes.com/sites/actiontrumpseverything/2013/07/07/forget-about-working-on-your-weaknesses-play-to-your-strengths-a-case-study/).
I believe it is inevitable to fall into that trap. I could give several examples from my own life (though I’d rather not), I have seen friends trying to become someone so different from what I knew them to be. And mind you, some people pull it off incredibly well – they are just very good at converting their weaknesses into strengths. But that approach may not be for everyone.
So, customary life advice at end of article: ask a couple of friends who’ve known you for a while – what is it that you’re really good at? Then, the big question is, does your aspiration allow you to really leverage these strengths? Or does it need you to work on your weaknesses?