Sometimes, “Build on Your Strengths” Isn’t Enough – (Consider that Michael Jordan Pursued His Next New Strength)


I think this is big — important.

Over the last few years, many seem to have grown to accept the wisdom that “you can’t make a dog into a cat.” If a person has certain strengths, the idea should be to build on those strengths, not try to have him/her absolutely conquer big weaknesses and deficiencies.

So, for example… if a person is simply not a people-person, you can’t make them into a people-person.

I get that. I Hate! Hate! Hate! working on things that I don’t like to do. They are not my strength. I like doing the things I like to do – things I know I’m best at.

(My ideal work life – sitting in my comfortable reclining chair, reading a book, eating ice cream, with soothing music on in the background. And then, speaking to folks about what I read and learn).

But… there are some tasks that I don’t like to do that I have to do. And other such tasks that I should definitely start doing.

And… more important, there are some skills that I need to work on, learn, work on, learn… that are really not my “strengths.”

Many companies are multi-location enterprises. Folks serve as managers/leaders at specific locations. I’ve spoken to leadership teams for a few such organizations/companies.

They are all very talented, very sharp folks (Otherwise, they never would have ended up in their important, influential positions).

But (and, yes, this is delicate), some leaders/managers are not naturally inclined to tackle a specific assignment that probably would well serve the people they lead. In other words, they need to get better at specific areas of work – and they don’t, because that’s not what they like to do, kind of naturally…

People like to work doing the things they like to do; the things they feel best at…

In other words, they like to focus on their strengths, not tackle their weaknesses.

So… a point, a story, and a vocabulary shift…

The point: if you have a job, you have to get good at the things that the job requires. You simply have to. So… get good at these, whether you want to, would like to, or not.

The story: the very best are very, very good at these “upping their game” tasks. Here’s the short version of the Michael Jordan story on this.

Michael Jordan, master of defense
Michael Jordan, master of defense

Michael Jordan was relentless at wanting to get better. That is a pretty big key!!! to his success. And it explains everything.

Chapter One – Michael Jordan was scouted/evaluated by the legendary Bill Gibbons. After he watched Jordan play (Jordan was still in high school), Jordan said to Gibbons: “Hello, Mr. Gibbons. What did you think about my game, and what can I do to improve?” “He wanted to get better,” said Gibbons of Jordan.

Chapter Two – Michael Jordan was great at scoring, but in his last year at North Carolina, he asked his Coach, Dean Smith (it helped that his coach was Dean Smith!), what he should work on his last year. Coach Smith told him that his scoring ability was his strength, but he needed to up his defensive game. So, his last year with Smith, Jordan worked hard on his defense. Check his statistics – in the NBA, Jordan was almost as impressive on defense as he was in scoring.

Chapter Three – Michael Jordan was so dominant that he was not quite the team player he needed to be. But his coach, Phil Jackson, basically forced him to get good at being a team player. The result – six championships, with unmatched personal numbers in the process.

Chapter Four – Michael Jordan felt like his body could not quite do what it had done earlier. (Hints of aging…). So, while he was filming Space Jam, on his own he developed a new shot. (Read about this in David Halberstam’s great essay, Jordan’s Moment). It worked – he won his lost championship with the help of this new shot he developed.

So, think about the lessons.

#1 — Know where you are not strong.
#2 – (Sometimes, a coach needs to point that out to you. Have a coach. Listen to your coach).
#3 – Work on that — that area, that skill, where you are not strong.

The vocabulary shift: Turn that “weakness” into your next new strength. The greatest leaders and achievers are masters at this…

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