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  5. Are Your Leaders Aware Of Their Weaknesses?

Are Your Leaders Aware Of Their Weaknesses?

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What makes a great leader?

Attributes could include excellent communication skills, active listening, transparency, empathy, emotional intelligence, having a clear vision and a willingness to make hard choices.

But what about being aware of their weaknesses?

Are leaders expected to be flawless? Or is it better they know they are not perfect?

These are some of the questions I explored with Dan Boniface, head of training, at The BCF Group.

“It is vital for leaders to be able to recognise their weaknesses,” Dan said.

“People are often good at seeing weaknesses in others but struggle to recognise them in themselves.

“If you’ve got a business owner or entrepreneur who is not aware of their weaknesses, there will be performance gaps.

“You often hear people talk about the importance of leaders surrounding themselves with good people.

“And it is so true because we all have our strengths and areas of development. The more we recognise that, the more we can plug those gaps in development with people who are experts in those areas.

Bring people into the business who can create a great culture or are excellent accountants for example.”

Leaders sometimes feel pressure to present an image of someone who knows all the answers and seems unshakable no matter what is thrown at them.

But Dan says while it can feel uncomfortable, admitting you are not always the expert can be a strength.

He said: “During our leadership and management courses, especially the ILM Level 5 ones, we stress that just because you are the manager, it doesn’t mean you have to be the expert in every area.

“Bring in the right people to your team who are experts, and then as a group, you are covering any development area each individual might have.”

So, how can you better identify and understand your weaknesses?

Developing self-awareness is critical.

But leaders must be aware of the difference between self-awareness and being self-critical.

“A lot of leaders are self-critical and don’t like to talk about strengths.

“The problem with the self-critical part is it is not forward thinking or solution focused.

“So, we need to develop self-awareness, which is the understanding of our development areas or gaps in our knowledge and skills.

“By building that self-awareness, we can do something about it.”

Doing this involves metacognition – a long word, but Dan is on hand to explain what it means.

“Metacognition means thinking about how we think and having a deeper understanding of why we do things,” he said.

“Imagine you are pitching to a potential client. You’ve built up a nice rapport and think you are near to being able to close the deal. And then things peter out, and you don’t secure it.

“You need to reflect on that because it presents a learning opportunity. But most of us reflect on a basic level of ‘That was going well, the relationship was brilliant, and I didn’t quite get it over the line. Maybe I’m not very good at negotiating.’

“But that is not what happened. The metacognitive part is a deeper level of thinking and considering whether it was because of your communication skills, for example.

“And, in that instance, then thinking about whether you used the wrong terminology, negative words or offered the wrong solution.

“If you know it is because you used too many negative words, that’s something you can fix next time because you are aware of it.

“It is about thinking on a deeper level.”

And that leads us to something called Kolb’s Learning Cycle.

It is a four-step learning cycle, created by Daniel Kolb, that shows people learn from experience.

Dan said: “Essentially, you have an experience, reflect on it, then abstract ideas and action from that, and you put them into action.

“But most people only do the experience and reflection parts.

“That might be that you did a presentation to the board, and you reflect that it went well or poorly.

“But we don’t think about what that means.

“Maybe it didn’t go well because you did not do enough preparation or left it too late. If you knew about the presentation a month ago, you can abstract from it that you should have started to get your ideas in place at the time, structured what you wanted to say and gradually polished it.

“Now we have a much better understanding than ‘I’m not good at presenting’. And you can put that into action next time.”

Strengths become weaknesses

Another good way for leaders to become more aware of their weaknesses is by considering their strengths.

That may sound contradictory.

But strengths can also be the source of hidden weaknesses.

“Within our strengths, there are often weaknesses,” Dan said.

“And the opposite can also be true.

“Attention to detail, for example, can be a great leadership strength if we are looking at data, accounting, or presenting to a client.

“But on other occasions, it could slow you down. It could mean you are slow to react or make a decision.”

Don’t ignore your strengths.

It’s also vital to remember strengths can be made stronger.

“I think the other part of this is we are taught to develop our weaknesses because our strengths are already ok,” Dan said.

“Those strengths might mean we are good at our job. But does it mean we are great at it or experts?

“Everyone can develop, improve their standards, go to the next level and learn more.

“Knowing what our strengths are means we can continue to develop them. And our weaknesses will develop alongside them.”

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is something we often mention in our leadership skills blogs.

And it is at the centre of the self-awareness leaders need to develop to better understand their weaknesses.

“There’s lots of research that suggests emotional intelligence is as important as IQ to being successful in your career,” Dan said.

“We teach it in all our courses because it underpins everything we do as human beings.

“If you are working with people, you need emotional intelligence.

“The more understanding of yourself and others you have, the more impact you will have.”


This is another term you will have seen us use before.

Dan says that instead of talking about ‘weaknesses’ – a word with lots of negativity attached – leaders should reframe them as ‘development opportunities’ or ‘areas to grow’.

He said: “In neurolinguistic programming, reframing is vital for a positive mindset.

“The words we use matter.

“We often talk about having difficult conversations, something many of us dread, maybe shy away from or consider a weakness.

“But if we think of them as challenging, courageous or brave conversations, it gets us in a better mindset to improve and better deal with them.”

Feedback to move forward

Feedback gives leaders insight into how others perceive their performance – both strengths and areas for development.

But Dan says feedback timing is critical.

“Don’t be afraid to seek feedback,” he said.

“But how we receive it is crucial. It is about remaining calm, controlled and emotionally balanced.

“If we have just been through a tricky situation, it may not be the right time to get feedback. Instead, go away and reflect on it and get feedback tomorrow or next week when your emotions have calmed down and are under control.”

Dan also believes it is important feedback comes from people at different levels in the organisation.

He said: “You can gather 360 feedback through a formal process, which gathers information from those above us, our peers and those we manage.

“But why not just ask people?

“During our coaching courses, we talk about coaching and mentoring others. But there is also something called reverse mentoring.

“This is where the employee mentors the manager. I recently helped someone who was doing this. She was mentoring her chief operating officer.

“Now, that’s a brave move from the chief operating officer. But the impact on the business has been huge. He could understand his and the business’s perceived weaknesses or development areas, and do something about them.”

Coaching and mentoring

What about more traditional business coaching and mentoring? Do they also have a role to play here?

“Coaching and mentoring help if we have identified our development area but don’t know what to do about it,” Dan said.

“If you are good at getting things done but lack the strategic understanding, you may not know how to develop that.

“Coaching will draw that out of you and provoke thought.

“And mentoring is the opportunity to work with someone more experienced who can share with you what they did to move up the levels.”

Role modelling behaviours

Understanding your weaknesses as a leader can help you better resource your team to cover them, provide opportunities to others, show your vulnerabilities, build better relationships and know what to work on.

And this creates a better workplace culture.

Dan said: “You can’t expect your teams to be open, honest, reflective and identify areas of development if you are not doing that yourself.

“As leaders, we must lead the way.

“Vulnerability is a factor that creates respect and trust in a team. You must be resilient and drive things forward as a leader.

“But it is also ok to admit your strength isn’t numbers, or whatever it might be.

“That’s why you have experts in your team. And you allow others to manage up the business and feel respected and valued.

“All that comes just from leaders being aware of their weakness.”

The BCF Group has been helping organisations develop their talent, inspire their people and overcome obstacles and challenges for the past 25 years.

We deliver training that makes a difference. Find out more about our business coaching, management training and interpersonal skills options.

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