U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Calab Franklin, March 29, 2018
Knowing and improving one’s strengths and weaknesses will improve the organization
“Superior leaders are acutely aware of their strengths and weaknesses. They actively build on their strengths and improve upon their weaknesses. Complacency is a fatal leadership flaw and we should never find comfort in remaining stagnant. This goes for every aspect of the profession of arms. Make realistic and achievable goals and then work to achieve them.”
Granted, that may be easier said than done. A lot is expected of officers at all levels, and this can be a shock to a new lieutenant fresh from the Basic Officer Leader Course. The following is an attempt to pass on some lessons learned with the hopes of helping you view this important topic in a simple and approachable manner.
Simply recognizing you are not perfect and identifying your strengths and weaknesses will put you ahead of a surprising number of your peers. Every officer brings different tools to the table. While the Army has a “minimum standard,” each officer is unique and by consequence will have a different set of strengths and weaknesses. The key to professional success is understanding that you do not have to be the “best” at everything, but you should be the “best” at something. It should also go without saying that you strive not to be the “worst” at any required skill or task. Periodic and candid self-assessment will ensure you are leveraging your natural talents to your benefit and that you are mitigating and shoring up your weaknesses.
Build on your strengths
Develop a plan to hone your identified strengths. Talent is like muscle – when you exercise your talent it strengthens and grows. It will atrophy if you don’t. Everyone starts with certain innate advantages. It is what you do with those advantages that will make all of the difference. It is common for those who are talented in one area or another to “coast” on that talent rather than develop and improve it. Don’t be that officer. Seek opportunities to exercise your talent and sharpen the edge of your particular gift or skill.
Improve your weaknesses
Do you suck at PT? Run more. Are you overweight? Eat less. Does briefing make you nervous? Rehearse. Are you shy in front of groups? Take a public speaking class. Did you get stumped in the last command and staff? Prepare for the next one. Long story short, use your weaknesses as indicators to guide your professional growth as opposed to excuses to justify your mediocrity. Self-improvement is mostly mental. A victim mentality will never improve your situation. If you believe you can, or believe you can’t, you are right.
Use your strengths to improve your organization
Are you looking for opportunities to provide a niche inside your organization? You can start by asking yourself three questions: What are you good at? What do you enjoy doing? How do the answers to the first two questions align with your unit’s assigned mission and areas of focus? Answering these three questions will start you on the path to being a valuable member of the team. Do you actually enjoy PT (rarer than you would think)? If so, look at how you can help your peers and subordinates improve their physical fitness. Do you enjoy learning new things and tackling problems? Volunteer to be a working group lead or become the “problem solver” in your shop. In short, being good at something doesn’t help anybody including yourself if you can’t apply your talent to organizational success.
Set achievable goals
Goal-setting is a tricky business. The key to success is backwards planning. First identify where you currently stand (your start-point) and your desired result (end state). You then work backwards identifying the “baby-steps to greatness” along the way. This provides you with a roadmap to guide yourself through the self-development process. Each of your “baby-steps to greatness” should be feasible, measurable and achievable (assuming you do them in order). As you complete each phase you will come closer to turning your strengths into assets and moving your weakness the realm of proficiency.
Some final thoughts to consider
In life it is impossible to remain stagnant. We are either walking up hills or sliding down them. The sooner you learn this the better off both you and your organization will be. A willingness to tackle weakness and sharpen strengths is a natural discriminator between marginal and superior performers. It takes effort to be sure, but the focus will pay dividends in ways few other individual efforts will in the Army.
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This is the fifth article in Nate Player series on leadership. Check out the first post in the series HERE
Major Nathan Player is currently assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg. He has 13 years of combined enlisted and officer service, has commanded and served in various joint staff and professional education assignments.