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Bill George

Harvard Business School Professor, former Medtronic CEO

Part 4: Strengths and Weaknesses

We each have certain assets and certain liabilities. You can maximize the use of your skills and talents and overcome your handicaps, but only if you’ve identified them. The fourth part in my series on Discovering Your True North helps you discover the positive qualities you may not even realize you possess, as well as any weaknesses that could be stumbling blocks to your success as a leader. Think about each question, and don’t just go for the easy answer. We all have a token response when someone asks us what our strengths and weaknesses are, but dig deeper!

1. What one word do you want people to use to describe you? What do you think they’d currently use?

If someone were to describe you to a stranger using only one word, what would you want that word to be? At its heart, this is a question of values. We all want to be known as intelligent, responsible, etc., but which of these traits is most important to you? The second part of this question deals with how people currently perceive you. Are you the person you want to be? And do you demonstrate those values to those around you?  

2. What would others say is your biggest asset? What would they say is your biggest flaw?

This is a tough question to answer objectively, so consider asking someone who knows you well (and who will break your biggest flaw to you gently!). You shouldn’t be astonished by what you hear; ideally, you’re familiar with your own strengths and weaknesses. You might be surprised, though, to learn which qualities people think you could really maximize, and which are harming you more than you may know. Are you taking advantage of these assets? How can you work on overcoming your flaws? 

3. What skills do people frequently compliment you on? These may not be what you think you’re best at.

What’s the nicest compliment you’ve ever received? This is a clue into what qualities you’d like to cultivate within yourself. There may be things that people often compliment you on that you simply brush off. For example, perhaps others frequently mention that you’re a good teacher, or that you communicate ideas clearly. Don’t take these skills for granted – not everyone has that ability. Instead, hone it and put it to use to further your goals.  

4. What do you not want others to know about you?

We all have character flaws and tendencies that we’d rather keep hidden. Maybe you always procrastinate, or you can’t seem to make it to meetings on time. If you have a recurring problem like that, make an effort to fix it! It’s easier to work on your problems than it is to suffer the consequences from them. Examine the answer to this question closely – maybe it’s a part of your personality, and you can’t or won’t change it. In that case, root out and conquer those insecurities.

5. Think about your talents, passions, and values. How can you use them to serve and contribute to society?

Your strengths and passions are the tools you will use to carve out your future. What are your tools best suited to create? Consider your talents, passions, and values separately. You may be considerably talented in one area, but if you don’t enjoy it or you aren’t passionate about it, you shouldn’t make it your ultimate goal. Lastly, think about how you can apply the things you love, care about, and are good at to improve the world in some way. Isn’t that the point, after all?

My blog on 30 Questions to Help You Discover Your True North offers several thought-provoking questions to help you find your way. In part five of this six-part series, I’ll discuss the role priorities play in discovering your True North.