By Marie A. Cini

President, Council for Adult and Experiential Learning

We all evolve as leaders and managers, and training programs can help us grow within these roles, improving our organization’s success. But too often, popular training programs and assessments focus on how to strengthen areas that are not our strengths. Trying to strengthen our weaknesses is a noble effort—but not if it means weakening our strengths.

For example, how many trainings have we all sat through that promise to help us use our time more wisely, get more organized, think more creatively, think more analytically, learn to use Excel, learn to use G Suite optimally, stop thinking and be more mindful? You get the picture. This drive to improve our current weaknesses can be maddening. It’s also not very effective. When we consider what priorities we might be able to address during the time invested in these efforts. (Conversely, for a process-oriented tactician, sitting through classes on leadership, change management, and negotiation might be equally questionable.)

When Gallup came along with its StrengthsFinder model, it literally changed how I approached my work and career. Their research demonstrated that we are far more successful when we apply our gifts and talents in roles we are best at, instead of trying to shoehorn our aptitudes into applications that they’re not aligned with. 

This insight helped me embrace my strengths, which include a visionary, strategic focus on the future and the ability to arrange organizations to maximize their potential. What I am not as good at are the operational pieces of organization life—and try as I might, I’m just never going to excel at them. 

But others are. They are very talented at the operational, tactical, project planning, attention-to-detail, and process parts of an organization that are critical to making it hum. So I have learned to hire, support, and value those whose skills complement mine to create the synergy our organization needs.

I have learned to appreciate and value when one of my team says, “Great vision, boss, but how are we going to get there? We need to create the plan of action.” And then I have learned to step away and let those action-plan experts lead the way for us.

My epiphany? Know your strengths and embrace them. But also know and accept what you are not as good at and what you will never be good at. Does this mean we shouldn’t strive to improve? No. Nor does it mean we can’t find fulfillment in activities we’ll never master (for example, as amateur musicians or artists). But when it comes to the workplace, hire those that are the best at complementary skills and support them to get you where you need to go. 

Marie Cini is president and CEO of The Council for Adult & Experiential Learning (CAEL), a national nonprofit that champions adult learning and brings together educators, employers and regions to create solutions that integrate work and learning.