An introduction to evaluating your strengths and weaknesses as a leader
For a lot of business owners and leaders, reflecting on their strengths and weaknesses does not come naturally or easily.
The pressure to appear strong and not to admit their weaknesses, to colleagues and even themselves, makes the process difficult for many.
A CIPD survey found that while senior managers in the UK were effective in financial and operational management, they were far less competent in engaging and inspiring others, for example.
There are many ways business owners can go about evaluating their strengths and weaknesses. This guide looks at the key factors to consider, highlights common mistakes and shares quick wins.
The next step will be to follow our dedicated action plan to make changes in your own business.
What factors affect how you evaluate your strengths and weaknesses?
The state of the business
A business owner or leader who has been successful may not have seen the need to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses. However, when things aren’t going so well this can be the trigger for a business owner to take stock.
In times of tension and stress, peers and even employees may be more willing to point out the limitations of their boss.
A company culture in which admitting to your faults is seen as a weakness makes it less likely that a business owner will do so. After all, it may well be the leader that created this culture in the first place.
A culture of openness will allow employees to speak their mind and can provide business leaders with the opportunity to receive feedback.
Approach to staff development
A company that emphasises developing its staff will be a more conducive environment for everyone, including its leadership group, to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses.
“Self-awareness is a great wisdom, which for many doesn't come until later in life or a career. In many cases, the change in thinking required to reflect your own strengths and weaknesses comes when your business is established and often comes from huge successes or mistakes. I don't think it is a lack of ability to reflect. It’s more where they are on that journey that defines their thinking at that time.”
Nicky Rudd, MD of Padua Communications
The cold hard facts
According to research by Harvard Business School, business owners and leaders who are entrepreneurial in outlook tend to be over confident and overestimate their abilities.
Common mistakes when reflecting on strengths and weaknesses
Not enough time devoted to the process
Business owners may reflect on their strengths and weaknesses from time to time. However, they don’t do it in a sustained or systematic way.
Failing to look for outside help and support
Honestly evaluating your strengths and weaknesses is more difficult if you attempt to do it on your own. However, reluctance to admit weaknesses to peers and colleagues may mean business leaders find it difficult to bring other people into the process.
They may also think “why bother?” believing that staff, especially those in junior positions, will be reluctant to point out their flaws.
“If things are going well, you run the risk of receiving so many accolades or praise that you think you are always right. And, if you do manage to surround yourself with equally powerful voices at some point, do you listen?”
Dash Lilley, co-founder of Three Spirit Drinks
The cold hard facts
A government report found that a lack of management and leadership skills, such as persuading or influencing others, contributed to around 60 per cent of the UK’s skills gaps.
Quick wins to help business leaders evaluate their strengths and weaknesses
Change your mindset
See your weaknesses as an opportunity to develop and grow as a leader.
Learn from experiences, both good and bad
It is just as important to learn from your successes as your failures. So when something goes well, take time to reflect on why that was and what you did right.
When something goes wrong, ask yourself whether there is anything that you would have done differently. A second opinion from a trusted colleague can support this process.
Get feedback from your peers and colleagues
Is there someone in the company that you trust to give you honest feedback? If you feel that staff are reluctant to point out your limitations face to face or will only tell you what they think you want to hear, make it anonymous using a questionnaire.
When you receive feedback don’t react defensively, but take it on board and use any criticism constructively.
Get a mentor
By not being too close to the situation, a mentor can provide invaluable insight into your ability as a leader.
For a fresh perspective, it is helpful for a mentor to be someone from outside your industry. They can give objective feedback grounded in either career experience or through not being so caught up in the day-to-day detail of a particular challenge or problem.
Engage a business coach
A business coach can help you get a better understanding of your strengths and weaknesses as a business leader. This may include putting you through psychological tests that provide you with detailed information on your capabilities.
Focus on your emotional intelligence
The importance of emotional intelligence (EQ) in business is now widely recognised. EQ is your ability to recognise and understand emotions of yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behaviour and relationships.
Understanding your EQ can help you identify which aspects of your character you need to work on. A good start is to take a test from a reputable organisation.
Don’t ignore your strengths
There is a school of thought that it is better for leaders to focus on developing their existing strengths. Think about where it could be valuable to invest more time in what you do well.
Maintain an attitude of continuous learning
Use leadership resources such as books, videos and podcasts, and make use of self-awareness tools. Popular tools include DiSC profiling, the Myers-Briggs Indicator and the Gallup Strengths Finder.
Investors in People produce a range of helpful material, such as on SWOT analysis.
Work out what your leadership style is
As the company changes and develops, evaluate your leadership style against what is needed for the business at this stage of its journey. According to Daniel Goleman, in his book “Primal Leadership”, there are six types of leadership style.
“Turning a blind eye to things that need to improve is an invitation to be surpassed by rival firms, who are willing to self-reflect in order to do better. A leader cannot see themselves as above the concept of peer review. Sitting down with someone senior and going over employee feedback to determine one's strengths and weaknesses at least once a month is essential.”
Sarah-Jane McQueen, general manager of CoursesOnline
The cold hard facts
According to research by Dr Travis Bradberry, an expert on EQ, CEOs have the lowest EQ scores in the workplace. However, he also found that across all occupational levels the top performers have the highest EQ scores.
Now you’ve learnt about how you can assess your strengths and weaknesses, use our action plan to direct your improvement efforts.