Business: Self-knowledge for success

Do you know your strengths and weaknesses at work?

Posted Jan 13, 2010

The first step in improving your performance at work involves gaining a better understanding of yourself in essential areas that impact your work. This self-knowledge can provide you with direction as you try to maximize your efforts in your business life. Becoming the best businessperson you can is complicated. You probably have a busy life filled with work, family, social life, and other activities. It's difficult to find time to do everything. By understanding yourself, you'll know what you need to work on to be efficient and focused in your efforts.

In developing greater self-understanding, you must recognize your strengths and weaknesses. Most businesspeople love to talk about their strengths, but don't like to admit that they have weaknesses. I disagree with Marcus Buckingham, the co-author of Now, Discover Your Strengths, who asserts that the way to find success is to focus on your strengths. This approach may work for jobs that involve one or two highly specialized skill sets, such as an accountant or a computer programmer, but most positions in the business world require a constellation of competencies. So, the "focus on your strengths" model will actually limit your climb up the corporate ladder.

Let me explain why. Most businesspeople think that they're as good as their greatest strengths. For example, a finance director may believe that her financial and analytic capabilities will enable her to one day become a CFO. The truth is, however, that you are only as good as your biggest weakness. If the finance director lacks leadership and team skills, her specialized abilities will only take her so far.

Additionally, focusing on your strengths has a ceiling effect. If you work to improve them, there's only so much better you can get because they are already your strengths. But, by definition, your weaknesses leave considerable room for improvement, so you will get more "bang for your buck" when you focus on alleviating your weaknesses.

Think of business strengths and weaknesses as a mathematical equation. On a scale of one to ten, where 1 is very poor and 10 is the best, if you are very good at research for an financial analysis (8), but you are quite poor at synthesizing that data (2), then your over-all performance would be moderate (8+2=10 out of a possible 20). If you focused on and improve your research capabilities (say, from 8 to 9), you wouldn't improve that much over all because you were already a capable researcher (9+2=11). But if you improve your integration abilities (say, from 2 to 6), then your over-all performance would rise significantly (8+6=14). Of course, you want to continue to build your strengths, but the more you improve your weaknesses, the better you'll be able to do your current job and the more prepared you'll be for that promotion that you really want.

Why Self-knowledge?

Nobody likes to admit, much less focus on, their weaknesses. Yet, when you gain self-knowledge - both appreciating your strengths and confronting your weaknesses - you are opening up new possibilities for growth and advancement in your career. So be receptive to self-knowledge. Rather than being uncomfortable with facing your weaknesses, be willing to consider the information in a positive and constructive way. When weaknesses are identified, it doesn't mean that you're incapable of performing well. It may be that you haven't had to use these skills in your current position or you've been able to hide them with the strengths you have. And the great thing about self-knowledge is that it gives you the power to makes changes in those weaknesses. The information you gain from actively seeking self-knowledge will enable you to really understand both your strengths and weaknesses, and plot a course to maximally leverage both to achieve your goals.

What is Prime Business Profiling?

If you want to learn what your strengths and weaknesses are in material areas of your work, for example, preparing corporate financials, they are usually quite evident on paper (or monitor). However, a difficulty with dealing with the psychological, leadership, and social aspects of the business world is that they're neither tangible nor easily measured. Think of Prime Business Profiling as competency testing for the mind. It makes these ethereal aptitudes related to your work more concrete.

Performance Profiling is a well-researched strategy for assessing any contributors to performance. The nice thing about it is that it's a template that can be customized to assess whatever areas are most relevant for your work. It involves a simple circular grid in which you label each "piece of the pie" with a performance-relevant area and then assess yourself (or have others assess you) on a one-to-ten scale (see profile on right).

Through my work with Young Presidents' Organization, an association of about 17,000 CEOs worldwide (, I developed Prime Business Profiling that offers self-assessment in five areas essential to maximizing performance in the corporate world: personal, professional, performance, leadership, and team. Each of these profiles identifies eight attributes that are most influential in each of the five areas. My Prime Business Profiling also allows you to evaluate your results and develop an action plan to put your newly learned self-knowledge to good use.

To receive a copy of my Prime Business Profile, just email me at

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