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But I Won't Do That...
Last week, a mediocre singer passed away. But that wouldn’t make headlines, would it?
Jim Steinman was a living legend, yet until I saw news of his passing, I had never heard his name.
Turns out, he was responsible for some of the greatest rock ballads ever produced. Several of which I count among my favorite songs. Ever.
What circumstances led me to live a life ignorant of this poor singer’s impact on it?
In this post, I explore how when we fixate on weakness, we forego strength. And in doing so, we place burdensome limits on ourselves and our teams.
Tried And Failed
The only thing weaker than Jim Steinman’s voice was his stage-presence. But what he lacked in presentation, he more than made-up for with preparation.
Jim Steinman wrote and produced epic music. Throw a dart at the billboard 100 list and he’ll feel it in the beyond. It’s All Coming Back to Me, I Would Do Anything For Love, and Total Eclipse of the Heart are but three of his megahits.
Star-power brought Steinman’s heart-piercing ballads to the masses. But it could have gone another way. Jim Steinman could have spent all those years trying to make Jim Steinman a household name.
Luckily for us, he did try, and failed. Despite Steinman’s incredible producing prowess, he tried to become a solo artist. He fell into the same trap as countless hiring teams and talented individuals everywhere fall into: the weakness paradox.
The (Backstage) God of Rock
Jim Steinman never became a household name, but that didn’t keep him from trying. He could sing, but hadn’t the panache nor punch of his larger-than-life partners.
Knowing full well his limitations, he released a solo album. A hit, it wasn’t. We can’t know the circumstances behind his decision, but I bet the weakness paradox was to blame.
The paradox is in full effect when an individual underestimates their strength and belabors their weakness. We take for granted the areas in which we excel, and divert energy to areas in which we struggle.
We try, often in vain, to ’prop-up’ our glaring flaws. The paradox is the exceptional talent who insists on displaying their lack of it (in other areas).
So what’s wrong with growing in areas in which we are weak? There’s little harm in exploring hobbies. But by a certain age, one gains a cursory understanding of their innate abilities.
Those talents which I possessed at age 13 have tagged along with me to age 33. I was a bit of an artist, a storyteller, a math-nerd, and a jokester. None has budged.
I morphed their application, but the skills remained rigid. Multi-disciplinary, multi-talented, and multi-legged superstars are often people who’ve taken their narrow skillset and applied it to new pursuits. A horse can pull a carriage, but it can also pull a plow.
The ’Missing Ingredient Fallacy’
When we obsess over a weakness, we salivate for a missing ingredient. If we only mastered writing, or speaking in public, or playing piano, we’d at last achieve the success we seek. Two factors play into this fallacy: hero-worship and fear of loss.
As a culture, we idolize successful people and paint them in broad, flawless strokes. We presume they already inhabit our strengths, and own none of our weaknesses. Therein must lie the key to their achievements (not silly things such as luck or perseverance).
This glamorous idolization of success becomes a powerful motivator when combined with fear. And what we fear is the loss of opportunity to excel in something meaningful.
And so, we refuse to cast-off our non-starter talents.
It’s a Non-Starter, Jim
Jim Steinman’s solo talents were non-starters. But his songwriting spawned not one, but several generations of devotees. I lip-sync to Holding Out For a Hero in private, and now you know that.
What enabled a mediocre singer to drop billboard-topping rock heart-breakers? Complimentary strengths.
A complimentary set of master skills delivers an output greater than the sum of its parts. In exchange for fame and recognition, Steinman enabled Meatloaf and Bonny Tyler to bring us hits that built a legacy.
But what if Steinman succumbed to the weakness paradox? What if he spent more time buttressing his vocals than developing his melodic genius?
Meatloaf wouldn’t do anything for love, because there wouldn’t be a Meatloaf for us to fall in love with.
Are You Trapped In The Paradox?
Do you find yourself focusing in areas where you know your talents have limit? If so, you’re in good company.
I’ve attempted to learn to play piano three times. Each time I began, I swore I would overcome my weakness. But shortly after beginning, I would cut ties with my educators and sell my black & whites.
You might presume that weak rhythm or poor hand-eye coordination prevented me from mastering the instrument. But you’d be wrong. What I lack is grit.
Grit is what enables a person to pursue a goal to exhaustion. I need to see results soon or I lose motivation just as fast.
My behavior led to myriad projects unfinished, courses un-taken, pursuits... un-pursued.
So how did I escape?
Un-Trap Your Heart
To escape the weakness paradox, you pull yourself out. And you do that by first redefining ’weakness.’
A weakness is something you may own, you possess weaknesses. For example, imagine my lack of grit as a shiny demerit badge pinned to my personality. Now for a reframe.
Instead of seeing limited grit as something I have, I look to grit as something I lack.
This reframe transforms my weakness. Before, it was a bright-red blinking target for heroes to bludgeon at their earliest convenience. Now, they are a princess in another castle (if you’ll forgive the strained video game metaphor).
Put plain: grit is out of the picture.
Knowing this, I have two options. I can fight it and apply to the Grit School for Boys Who Chase Shiny Objects. Or I can concede to the following facts.
One, I will fail to build, in sufficient amounts, a personality trait which I currently lack. And two, others can provide this missing factor in quantities I won’t soon myself manifest.
I choose the concession. And so should you. And if you’re unsure, let me ask you this: would you rather spend time, energy, and money to upgrade your 1 to a 3, or your 8 to a 10?
Every moment you spend in the weakness paradox, your skills atrophy. Your biggest muscles go unused like a body-builder who prepares for the Olympics by decorating cakes.
But if you bolster your strengths, you gain more for your efforts. And when you combine your strengths with the complimentary strengths of others, you maximize their contributions, and your own.
That is what every person who has ever hired anyone must understand.
The hiring game is a bit of cat-and-mouse, initiated by the weakness paradox. The applicant, fixated on their weaknesses, buries them.
Their resume lists nothing but ’strengths.’ The hiring manager, knowing full-well a flawless candidate has yet to glide along this Earth, attempts to get to the heart of the matter. They throw the ol’ curveball, “what is your greatest weakness?”
Ah ha! Gotcha, sucka! Not quite. The mouse moves the cheese by reciting a speech that highlights yet another strength. And on it goes.
The hiring manager wants to establish a baseline reality. The applicant wants to establish bi-weekly bacon drops into their checking account. What do you do? Defuse the antagonism.
Knowing that weaknesses are not vulnerabilities, but features a person may lack, you must ask some from of the following question:
“Ms. Applicant, you’re a go-getter. When you start with us, you’re going to give 100%, I can already see that. But if you were to perform at 120%, what would you need from us to achieve it?”
Move past the obvious answers (money) and get into this person’s unique requirements.
In a roundabout way, you learn the information you seek without putting the applicant on the defensive. And why is that good? They may reveal what they perceive as their true strengths.
From there, you can make a superior hiring decision. You can ask, are these strengths over-represented on my team or is this the exact type of person we’re looking?
By hiring for complimentary competence, you increase diversity of talent and throughput of the team at large.
Failing this, you opt to hire the least-weak. In that mode, you have no strength target and no rubric to judge this candidate by other than domain expertise and personality.
That leaves you liable to reduce incoming weakness, and consequently, neutralize the compounding power of strength.
In your professional life, and in your capacity as a hunter of talented individuals, search for strength. Know your strengths. Learn to spot strength in others, and search ceaselessly for the person, process, or product that compliments you and maximizes your potential.
Anything else, is weaksauce.