It’s a sad fact of business life—and one people hardly ever talk about—that your company is only as strong as your primary weakness. No matter how well you perform in one or several areas, your primary weakness will drag down your revenue growth potential. The good news is, this doesn’t have to happen to you. After we look at why and how it happens, I’ll talk about how you can avoid this common management problem.
In my interviews with thousands of customers, I have found that they always sum up a company’s “brand”—the company’s true perceived image in the marketplace—with a “they’re really good at this, but not so good at that,” type of statement.
The CEO of that company, on the other hand, is very proud of what the company excels at, and of course their marketing (if it is any good) is dominated by that goodness. Which is as it should be.
But potential customers, who have full access to each other in our uber-connected world, can easily find out what you’re “not so good at.” So while your marketing budget is devoted to praising your strength, your word-of-mouth reputation always includes your weakness.
If you face your weakness, and follow the dictum of “find it, face it, fix it,” you stand a chance of overcoming it. If you are not even willing to find out what it is, and face it, you will never fix it. It will be like an undetected cancer tumor growing in an otherwise healthy body. No matter how “good” your company gets because of your strengths, the disease can—and will—overwhelm and ultimately destroy your company.
Why are issues with management such a difficult problem to fix?
It starts with the individual CEO or entrepreneur not wanting to admit that he or she has a weakness. And even if the company leader is aware of it, the tendency is to dismiss it as insignificant.
This dismissal grows and spreads, because the people working for the company leader seldom, if ever, want to be “the one” who brings the weakness—and the problems it is causing inside the company and out in the marketplace—to the leader’s attention.
Ironically, as the company grows because of your strengths, it becomes less likely that someone will say anything to you about it. Everyone assumes that the boss will either wave it away, or worse, get angry at the person who brought it up. Even outside of a company environment, if we haven’t faced our own weaknesses, we all tend to be irritated when a spouse, friend, or other family member tries to help us face those weaknesses.
So the problem begins with the fact that you have a weakness. Welcome to the human race. We ALL have weaknesses. No one is immune from this truth.
We have strengths, too—things we’re very good at, which are the things we love to do. Our days tend to be dominated by these things, because at any given moment, when we finish one task, and move to another, we have a choice. “Do I do this thing that I love to do, or do I do this thing that I hate to do?”
Easy to see how that works out. By the end of every day, 90% of the things you’ve worked on will be things you love to do. The things you’re not so good at will get pushed aside, and will get worse over time. Anything you neglect will only get worse.
Examples? Extroverted folks who love to interact with other humans and think on their feet will ignore or put off accounting and data analysis. Introverted folks who love poring over spreadsheets and programming code will try to be “too busy” to interact with other humans.
When you are a person working in a company (if you’re working for a good company), you will be placed in a job where you can spend most of your day doing what you love.
However, if you are the leader of a company, you can’t afford to ignore your weaknesses. Doing so will keep the company from reaching its full potential. Your company will only grow as large as your weakness allows.
What can you do to fix this problem?
“Find it, face it, fix it,” sums it up.
Find it. Actively ask your closest staff members about your strengths and weaknesses. “What am I really good at, and what do I tend to avoid or ignore?” Unlike the situation I described earlier, where people are afraid to tell you the truth, asking this question this way will let them know that you really do want to know, and they won’t get into trouble for telling you. (And you absolutely, positively have to keep that implied promise; if you become irritated and defensive, you’ve blown it. They won’t make that mistake again.)
You can also ask yourself the same type of question. What do you love to do, and what do you put off doing? The answer will reveal your strengths and your weaknesses.
Face it. OK, so now you know. Now it is your job to embrace this truth, as enthusiastically as you jump into your happy places. Don’t be afraid to be honest with yourself and others about your weaknesses; they all know what they are anyway. They will be relieved that you finally see them for yourself. Don’t be ashamed or feel guilty. If you’ve been ignoring them for a long time, you might want to apologize to your staff, but don’t go overboard. Just say it and mean it, and then start working together on the solution.
Fix it. When I started Zhivago Partners, the first person I hired was an Infrastructure Manager who also became, as it turned out, our “app whisperer.”
I did this for several reasons.
I knew what my strengths and weaknesses were, thanks to my blunt and beloved husband, but also because of all the revenue coaching work I had done for decades, helping other CEOs and entrepreneurs succeed. I knew I would do well working with clients and managing the team, but that I would need help making sure that the promises I made while strategizing and planning with clients would be carried out efficiently and reliably by our people, processes, and systems.
I was also absolutely convinced of the power of solid systems and processes, again thanks to my husband, who had successfully run a factory for years before we started working together. Working together in our high-tech agency, we were able to produce as much work as companies with many more people, just because our systems were so efficient.
I also had been in tech for years, and knew that our entire company would run on the cloud. I knew we would only be as effective as our apps allowed us to be.
In other words, I went out of my way to build Zhivago Partners, from day one, so that the “weakness” side of the company (because of my natural tendencies) would be as strong as the “strong” side of the company.
This is what you have to do. You have to consciously go out of your way to address these weaknesses.
As Zhivago Partners has grown, I’ve surrounded myself with a solid “core infrastructure” team of people whose strengths— and the work they love to do—address and act as a counterpoint to my natural weaknesses.
Making sure it is fixed
Now comes the hard part (yes, there is a harder part). You have to work more diligently and be more humble when managing these areas that aren’t your strong suit. The wonderful people on our core infrastructure team often come up with ideas that are better than what I would have thought of. And, they may understand something complex more easily than I. In these situations, I need to be patient with myself and insist on understanding it before shifting into manager mode. One of my CEO clients, an excellent manager, does this by saying, “I’m not following.”
In my revenue coaching days, one CEO hired me several times to turn around the sales and marketing departments in several of his companies. He also tended to hire a “listening coach” for the leadership team for each of those companies, so I heard the coach’s lessons more than once. The one that stuck with me was this one: “It is the responsibility of the speaker, not the listener, to make sure a concept is understood.”
So there is no shame in asking for more clarification. In fact, those you manage will be glad you are paying full attention and want to understand fully before making a managerial decision.
You can’t relax, either, after you have done the initial work to “fix it.” There will definitely be a temptation to “set it and forget it,” which means that it won’t remain fixed. Little things will crop up that must be addressed, and again, you will need to consciously go out of your way to keep the train on the tracks. You must constantly be “finding it, facing it, and fixing it.”
It is so easy to put a large effort into the areas where you’re weak, then stop paying attention to it. Your staff, initially excited and encouraged about the “large effort” activity, will see that you’re not going to keep supporting them, and they will become discouraged and demoralized.
In my experience, this is one of the main reasons that good people quit. Given how difficult it is to find and retain good people these days, you won’t want to fall into this trap.
As always, I wish you all good success as you strive to meet this challenge. The good news is, doing so will remove the handicap your company is currently suffering from, and set you on a very positive path to further revenue growth. It’s definitely worth the effort.