Tackling Weakness

Writing in the Wall Street Journal today, columnist Jason Gay points out that Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has a lot of weaknesses.

“Every day we are reminded of more things Tim Tebow can’t do,” Gay writes. “He cannot throw a proper pass. He cannot stand still in the pocket. He can’t run a conventional offense. He runs, but he doesn’t run gracefully. He runs upright and frantic. He runs like he’s stealing a toaster from the mall. He’s a cavalcade of failures.”

Of course, the reason that the Broncos give Tebow a paycheck is that he’s more than his weaknesses. He’s also a collection of strengths (as evidenced by Tebow having led his team to five straight wins).

This was something Peter Drucker often stressed (and that we’ve often cited here) when talking about human talent: Build on strengths, not on weaknesses.

In The Practice of ManagementDrucker told the story of a politician at the Pearly Gates being grilled by St. Peter. The politician “pointed out how he had not taken bribes, had not had mistresses, and so forth.” However, “St. Peter interrupted him rather gruffly: ‘We aren’t a bit interested in what you didn’t do; what did you do?’”

Drucker summed up the moral simply: “One cannot do anything with what one cannot do. One cannot achieve anything with what one does not do. One can only build on strength. One can only achieve by doing.”

This doesn’t mean people should ignore their shortcomings. “Developing your strengths does not mean ignoring your weaknesses. On the contrary, one is always conscious of them,” Drucker averred in Managing the Non-Profit Organization. “But one can only overcome weakness by developing strengths.”

To that end, Drucker advocated keeping score on oneself. “It is always painful for me to see how great the gap is between what I should have done and what I did do,” he confessed. “But, slowly, I improve—both in setting goals and in achieving results.”

The trick is to make those results significant enough to render your weaknesses manageable and even irrelevant. “Tim Tebow never, ever makes everybody happy,” the Wall Street Journal concludes. “He can’t really do anything besides win football games. Since when did anyone care about that?”

What do you think: Do companies give too much attention to remedying people’s weaknesses instead of building on their strengths?