3 surprising ways to turn your weaknesses into a professional advantage

You’re only as strong as your biggest weakness. As an ambitious professional, it’s important to not only gain greater awareness into the unique powers you bring to the table but also into your potential shortfalls and areas of improvement.

“You have to know what sets you apart (strengths) and what your blind spots are (weaknesses) to truly bring the most value to your team and organization. Having an active awareness of what you do well and your areas of opportunity can go a long way in helping you learn, grow and thrive in your career,” says Rashida Geddes, a millennial leadership coach, talent recruitment consultant, speaker and host.

The tricky thing is that it’s not always obvious to spot what is holding you back or what you could be doing better — let alone use that information in a constructive way for your career development. But putting some work into understanding your weaknesses can help you turn them into a professional advantage. Here are three surprising ways to leverage those pesky areas of improvement to propel your career forward. 

Get more clarity and grow faster

Start seeing your weaknesses as a compass to your biggest strengths. For example, let’s say you struggle with detail-oriented tasks. Perhaps it means you excel at zooming out and seeing the bigger picture. Using your weaknesses to gain clarity on your strengths will allow you to grow faster as a professional. Because, ultimately, the goal is to discover your hidden talents, lean into them and expand them — while managing your areas of improvement.

“Take some time to do a personal inventory. What do you do well? What tools do you use to overcome challenges for yourself? The answers can provide the basis for a better understanding of how you bring value,” says Geddes, who recommends using strengths-finding tools and asking trusted friends, colleagues and mentors for feedback to gain a greater understanding of your strengths as well. “Their feedback will not only allow you to tap into those areas of strength but also start the process of identifying your professional brand.”

As you discover what you do best as well as gain greater insight into what you could do better, you can round yourself out by improving your weaknesses over time without losing track of the fact you want to focus on leveraging your strengths. It’s a balancing act.

“Seek out learning, projects and or people to help you work on improving these areas but give yourself time and grace to see tangible results. Focus most of your energy on finding ways to leverage your strengths. Tap into the value you bring to the team and demonstrate excellence in your work,” says Geddes.

Build better teams

One of the most powerful ways to turn weaknesses into an edge is to surround yourself with complementary people whose strengths offset your areas of improvement and vice-versa. “Build teams that help account for your blind spots and weaknesses,” says Geddes.

Whether you’re in a leadership role or not, knowing how to balance out your blind spots is a prime leadership skill that will allow you to shine as a team member and collaborator by demonstrating self-awareness and benefiting outcomes such as reaching team goals. While it could be tempting to hide your weaknesses and pray nobody finds out you actually suck at putting together project-management roadmaps, it can be very empowering to take charge and seek out to involve the right people. Just aim to do so in a positive way that highlights everybody’s areas of genius and contributions, including your own.

Strategically take on stretch projects

“Not every weakness will become your strength. However, both have the power to change your career trajectory. Focus on what matters most while improving those weak areas. Leverage your team/network/community to help fill the gap as you grow and build value by tapping into the strengths of others around you,” says Geddes.

So, what’s the best way to bridge the gap between feeling like a complete newbie and a rockstar? Strategically taking on stretch projects and using your learnings to refine your skillset even further. “Take on stretch projects to help you build your learnings around that area and take note of what went well, what didn’t and why to gain better insights.”

Perhaps you won’t ever become a data analysis expert if you are a creative mastermind who doesn’t do too well with numbers, but you can at least feel comfortable navigating waters that involve both creative and analytical work. Being well-rounded can often make the difference between accessing a bigger opportunity or being passed over for it.