Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Billy's Sixth Law: The Paradox of Strengths and Weaknesses

Your Greatest Strength may be Your Greatest Weakness

Consider the following description of a potential new employee:

  • She is a self-starter...She is a loose cannon.
  • She is detail oriented...She is 'hung-up' on minutiae.
  • She works independently...She keeps important information to herself.

The greatest strengths are the greatest weaknesses.  This dichotomy comes to light as entrepreneurs grow and develop their businesses.  Sometimes the personal characteristics that make an entrepreneur great while starting a business are the same characteristics that prevent them from operating the business.

Sometimes in a job interview we hear the question, "What are your strengths and weaknesses?"  Well they are often the same.  Those same characteristics which are strengths are also weaknesses.  I recently read an article in Bloomberg Business week about Jeff Bezos of Amazon.  He is demanding, smart and constantly driving his company forward.  He is also mercurial, condescending and harsh.  He was once quoted in a meeting rhetorically asking “Did you take your stupid pills this morning?" 

I am working with a company where the implications of this law are revealing difficulties today.  The owner and founder of the company is a great guy.  He believes in providing the best products, the best service, the best terms and the best prices.  He is always willing to help out, even helping competitors who get into a jam. 

These very strengths and strongly held beliefs have drawbacks.  He had a slow paying customer who was having trouble paying.  He gave my client the line "I just need to wait until I get paid." and "Don't worry, it's just a temporary problem." and later on "If you cut off supply the company won't survive and all these people will be out of work."   The result was my client wrote off a $400,000 account receivable. 

Customers often ask for rush jobs. Since service is a core company value, he incurred an additional overtime cost to deliver the rush.  You would think that people would be grateful, but many of his customers began to ignore agreed upon lead times and the rush job became the norm.

I would never want to change this entrepreneur.  He is truly one of the finest men I have ever met.  He must, as we all must, look at ourselves and ask, "Are my strengths weaknesses?"   A strong sense of self-awareness is an essential component of success in life and success in business. Sometimes we need help seeing the weakness in our strength.  The self-starter sometimes needs guidance...the hard worker sometimes needs help ... the extravert needs to realize that not everybody will like him and highly driven entrepreneur must be careful not to ride roughshod over his or her employees. 

I have read and heard many people pontificating on the characteristics of a successful entrepreneur.  I have also seen many different kinds of people, with different skill sets, different cultural backgrounds, genders and levels of education both succeed and fail.  In all that time I have only noticed two common themes.  Successful people tend to have a high level of self-awareness and successful people take responsibility.  Less successful people have little self-awareness and spend a disproportionate time making excuses. 

So the next time you are thinking about your strengths you bring to the world of entrepreneurship, remember that you are also bring a weakness which may very well be exactly the same.





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