It’s the question that most of us dread the most in job interviews: “What are your weaknesses?” Most of us try to come up with an answer that makes a positive sound like a negative (i.e., “I’m a perfectionist”) and hope that the issue never comes up again. After all, thinking about your weaknesses usually isn’t a very pleasant exercise.
That is often even more true for entrepreneurs. The very concept of entrepreneurship is to focus on your strengths and turn them into a business. Any weaknesses you might have, you can hire other people to manage. Yet it’s not always that simple.
While not having skills in, say, accounting probably aren’t going to affect your business, since you can hire a qualified accountant to handle the books, there are some weaknesses that can be detrimental to your business’s growth and success in the long run. For example, if you aren’t skilled in motivating your employees, you may find it difficult to build loyalty and enthusiasm over time, which can lead to lower productivity and turnover. Even if you are a sole proprietor, not understanding and working on your weaknesses can have a negative effect on your business.
It’s not always enjoyable to focus on the things that you don’t do well, but it’s necessary if you want to improve and grow your business. If you aren’t reaching your goals, or feel like you’ve hit a plateau in terms of growth, it might be time for some introspection.
How to Find Your Weaknesses
The tricky thing about weaknesses is that while some are obvious (the aforementioned accounting) others are more insidious and less obvious at first glance. It’s these weaknesses that are often the most devastating, as you don’t even know they are there – or, you might even think that they are strengths.
To help uncover these weaknesses, spend some time thinking about your career thus far, and the path your business has taken. Ask yourself some important questions:
- What have I/the business failed at? Looking honestly at failures, or even less-than-stellar results, and honestly assessing what went wrong, can provide insight into areas where you can improve.
- What do you avoid doing? We can be “good” at things that we don’t like doing. Sometimes, these things are unavoidable. But take an honest look at how you approach your business and spend your time, and identify the things that you tend to avoid or put off. Consider why you don’t tackle these tasks. Usually, if you can’t find a compelling reason, beyond “it’s tedious,” then that can be an indication that you don’t have the skills and knowledge you need to do it well.
- What feedback have you received? Whether it comes from your clients, your co-workers, or your mother, feedback is valuable and can help you identify areas where you need improvement. Look for patterns in how people respond to you or evaluate you. They might say things differently, but if the general theme is the same (for instance, you might receive a lot of feedback related to how you communicate) then you need to re-evaluate and work on your skills.
Remember, weaknesses are not simply what you don’t enjoy doing, nor are they a sign that you are a failure. They are simply areas in which you may not have the tools you need to make an impact.
Fixing the Issues
Identifying your weaknesses is important, but perhaps even more important is how you handle them. While you can improve your own skills by using online MBA programs to learn and improve where you don’t stack up, seeking training, or making changes to your habits, there may also be times when acknowledging your weaknesses is enough. Knowing and focusing on your own strengths – and building on them – allows you to create opportunities for others. Avoid wasting your time and talents on areas where you can’t really make a difference, and keep the motivation and morale high within your company. You may not always be able to avoid doing anything that you aren’t great at, but you will have a better understanding of what you are capable of and where you need to get help or accept “good enough.”
The most important part of this process is being honest with yourself. Much like interviewers aren’t fooled by your “I work too hard” spiel when you’re applying for a job, avoiding your real weaknesses won’t help you improve at all. It might be painful, but taking a good, hard look at yourself can be exactly what your business needs to move to the next level.