Should I Focus my Development Efforts on my Strengths or Weaknesses?

If the question is “Should I focus my development efforts on my strengths or weaknesses?” our answer is “YES” or at least you should consider doing both. Identify a strength where you can become truly exceptional, propelling your career forward. Identify a weakness that may be a derailer or disqualifier that if not addressed will block your progress. Let your context and aspiration drive your focus—consider your current role, desired next role, and long-term career goals.

Focus on StrengthsMan Lifting Weights

Do you have a strength that could be exceptional with a little extra effort? Is there a strength you are underutilizing? Leveraging that strength just might be your ticket to success at the next level. Strengths often improve faster than weaknesses because a positive feedback loop sets in propelling you forward and delivering results quickly. Exceptional performance is what sets you apart and gives you the ability to contribute at a unique and higher level. Is there a strength that could really elevate your game even with just moderate improvement?

Focus on Weaknesses

Do you have a “missing strength” that is required for success in your current position or desired next position? Do you see evidence of a “deal breaker” in your feedback? Address this weakness now by making it a development focus—get it to a level where it is good enough to not hold you back. You might be able to turn it into a strength, but your primary concern is to have it no longer be a career derailer. Come up with a plan to improve this weakness. You may, for example, rely on a colleague or subordinate to compensate. If it is truly required and development is not desired or likely, look for a shift in responsibilities for a role with a better fit.


Focus on Strengths Only Approach

Focusing only on strengths became popular in the 90s and still has a strong following today. Don Clifton questioned what would happen if we looked at what was right with people instead of what is wrong. Through his research, he launched the CliftonStrengths with Gallup. Marcus Buckingham was also focused on finding the strengths in people. He developed the StandOut® strengths assessment. Since then, the idea to focus on strengths has grown and other assessments have been developed.

Finding what you do well is key to your long-term career success and indeed happiness. Leveraging what you do well will help propel your career forward. By focusing on your weaknesses, you are spending energy that could be better used to improve what you already do well. Unless an issue is a derailer, you are generally better-served making a good trait exceptional rather than making a weakness just good.

Being exceptional is what gets you noticed and allows you to make a uniquely valuable contribution to the organization. Overcoming your weaknesses takes a lot of effort and may meet with only moderate success even with great effort. At best you will likely only ever be “OK” on most of your weaknesses. The return on building your strengths will be greater than the same effort focused on addressing your weaknesses. As you use your strengths more you get more and more positive feedback and are energized to continue to develop and utilize your strengths even further.

Focus on Weaknesses Only Approach

This is the traditional approach and usually the default position for folks that are not deep in the talent development world.

Why worry about what you do well already? If you want to get better, find your weak points and make them strong. Addressing your weaknesses allows you to overcome what is “holding you back”. You need to identify “derailers” or “deal breakers” and bring your level of performance up to the point where, although it may never be your “best self” it will not flag you as unqualified or unfit for promotion. You need to know your key weaknesses and have a strategy to develop them or work around them.

Over the course of your career you acquire new skills to succeed and grow. What makes you successful at one level may be different than what will make you successful at the next level. You need an ever-changing basket of strengths to be successful as you progress in your career. Find what strengths you are missing (weaknesses) and through development add them to your basket. Today’s leaders should be well-rounded to succeed in meeting the ever-changing needs of organizations and their teams. If you focus only on your strengths, you will limit your role opportunities and miss a potentially very diverse rewarding career.


We presented common arguments for either a focus on strengths or a focus on weaknesses. Both sides have merit but you want to be careful about only focusing on one or the other. As with many aspects of life, the answer to our original question is, “It depends.” However, our overall recommendation is to focus on your strengths but also pay attention to potential career derailers. Listen to all feedback you receive. When determining what is most important to focus on, remember to consider the context of where you are and where you want to go.