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Embracing weakness: Three ways to make shortcomings work for you

Chad Hughes is president and CEO of Calgary-based LandSolutions, a provider of land acquisition, management and environmental services.

There was a time when I would have never freely admitted my faults.

I don't recall being encouraged to do so. I certainly wasn't taught to be aware of them in my school years. In my late 30s, I began to develop some clarity around what my faults were, and this clarity came partly through understanding the opposite – my innate abilities. This self-awareness has helped shape my life for the better, and I think it's an exercise that can benefit all leaders.

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Analyze your life

When travelling back from an entrepreneurs' retreat, one of my forum members asked what I was best at. It was a simple question, but I was lost for words.

So I asked him what he thought. He told me he saw me connecting easily to my peers and developing trust. I was surprised, in a way, but it was feedback I'd heard before.

His insight into my strengths was also the beginning of my journey to understanding my weaknesses. Thinking about the parts of us that aren't so flattering holds the key to stronger performance and a more satisfying life. For me, that started by having a conversation about what I was best at.

From there, I started to observe my energy by reflecting on it at the end of each day. I looked at what had happened during the day when I came home drained versus when I felt energized.

If my day consisted of moving an opportunity forward, developing relationships, coaching a colleague or closing an important deal, I felt charged up. If I spent all day in long meetings, if I was dragged into the details of a project, or if I had to manage someone's performance, that drained me.

The truth began to emerge. I was spending a good portion of my day involved in what drained me. In other words, I felt like I was bad at about 50 per cent of my current role.

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Understand yourself

When you begin to understand what you're not great at, something amazing starts to happen.

You get a sense of pride and confidence from embracing the opposite side of your weaknesses, the unique set of innate abilities that you bring to everything you do. My "energy audit" was just the first step in this process.

I began working with a new coach. In our first coaching session, he asked how the people closest to me would describe me. He suggested we call my wife, friends, colleagues, clients, and family. The responses from a dozen people were shockingly similar.

They described qualities like driven, optimistic, innovative and curious. Others called me a passionate big thinker, able to recognize opportunity and drive others toward it. But one of my colleagues noted that I don't provide well-defined direction, which makes some people struggle under my leadership. He said I assume people will grasp how to execute my vision and that most people require more direction and clarity. I saw truth in both the good and the bad feedback I received. Speaking with people who knew me best gave an enlightening perspective at what I offer and what I lack.

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The next step was to embrace my faults and my strengths equally, to acknowledge that this is who I am. I became less interested in doing the things that drained me and more interested in pursuing what energized me. I realized I could leverage my strengths to offset the weaknesses.

I can recruit other people who excel where I falter and do so by leveraging my best qualities, my relationship-building and vision-sharing abilities. The balanced understanding of these opposites has pulled me toward a better life, one that would not have unfolded if I'd continued to avoid thinking about my flaws.

A colleague once suggested I shouldn't be so open about weaknesses because it causes people to pick on them when they otherwise might not have noticed.

Personally, I believe vulnerability builds trust, and I would rather beat others to the punch when it comes to criticism of myself. It is easier to accept criticism from others when you have already come to terms with it and when you have given them permission to because of your openness.

Honesty about your weaknesses demonstrates maturity, confidence and humility. Your clarity may help the people around you embrace their own flaws, and those people may be the answer to reducing the drain on your energy, or vice versa. All because you had the backbone to embrace what you're bad at and share that with those you trust..

Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.

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