You Can’t be Well-Rounded in Isolation

Discovering strengths

Published: 18th July 2018

From the time we are born, there is a focus on what we aren’t good at. When we are children, our parents worry when we don’t take our first steps quickly enough, or when we don’t make friends as easily as others in our class. They might scorn us for being too trusting of others, for talking too much, or for telling too many stories. At school, we are constantly told we need to improve and get better at the subjects in we aren’t proficient. It’s been a long time since I was in school, yet the D- grade I received in math is etched in my memory. Rather than focus on my A grades in English and art, my parents chose to pay the most attention to math.

To help me improve my math grade, I attended tutoring twice a week and spent hours on extra assigned homework. It reduced me to tears as I was pulled away from the subjects I loved. Despite the huge investment, my grades only marginally improved. My confidence was shattered by the experience. I felt stupid for being unable to understand something that came easily to others.

The people that love us the most often choose, through good intention, to focus on our weaknesses. This continues into our adult years. When we get to work, we have performance appraisals in which the primary focus is getting better at what we’re not good at. How does that make us feel? De-motivated and de-energized, often to the point that our performance declines and we leave that job in search of a better one. And so the cycle continues as we constantly strive to become the well-rounded person that we will never be.

So, how do you become a more well-rounded person? A quick search will give you the following results:

  • Read for twenty minutes a day.
  • Multitask on your commute to work.
  • Sign up for a class.
  • Attend local events.
  • Have a couple of hobbies.

These tips work well enough, but what if none of these actually play to your natural strengths? If you don’t enjoy the process of learning, will signing up for a class actually serve you in the pursuit of becoming well-rounded? If it doesn’t play to your strengths to be in a room full of people you don’t know, how will attending local events help you? When you prefer to focus on one task at a time, how does multitasking serve you best?

While undertaking some of these activities – particularly if they fall into your areas of strengths – will help you, the truth is this: a well-rounded person does not exist.

People are wonderfully unique. The chances of someone having the same top five strengths in the same order as you in the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment is 1 in 33 million. According to leading strengths application organization Strengths Strategy, it would take 170 years to become good at all 34 strengths in the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment. Focusing on your areas of non-strength is in fact a huge waste of your time.

Peter Drucker said it best:

“It takes far more energy to improve from incompetence to mediocrity, than to improve from first-rate performance to excellence.”

So, if you want to be more well-rounded, what’s the answer? The answer comes from identifying your strengths and finding ways to work with other people to help you overcome the areas that are challenging for you.

Here’s an example.

If you are someone with the strength of “relator,” as I am, you enjoy close relationships with people you know and trust. You don’t enjoy small talk very much because you want to get to know people and find out what really makes them tick. You don’t like being in a big room full of people you don’t know. You are the person at a networking event who will easily stick to someone with whom you have something in common. Does it make me you a bad networking person? Probably – if you look at the tick list suggestion of “How to work a room.” But chances are that you will be able to follow up with the one or two people you spoke to and maintain a relationship with them afterwards.

Let’s contrast that with the strength of someone who has “woo” as a strength. People with “woo”  (which stands for Winning Others Over) like to meet as many people as possible. They actually love a room full of people and will go out of their way to make friends with as many people as possible. So, as a “relator,” how do you make yourself well-rounded when you go to a networking event? Find a person with “woo” as a strength and take them with you. They will do the initial introductions and leave you to get to deeper and more meaningful conversations while they carry on working the room.

Let’s look at another example. If you are someone who is great at coming up with ideas (the strength of “ideation”), who sees the bigger picture but struggles to implement those ideas, you need to partner with someone who is good at getting things done. Someone with great executing skills like an “achiever,” or someone with “focus.” Otherwise, action is never taken, and while you have brilliant ideas, none of them will ever be implemented. And that’s just a waste of your brilliant ideas.

Being well-rounded is about understanding what we are good at (our strengths) and what our areas of non-strength are. Being open about what we aren’t good at is often something we aren’t too comfortable with. We have been conditioned from a very young age to see it as a weakness, which is something most of us fear. But we all have areas of non-strength, and we need to embrace these. Once we’ve embraced our strengths and non-strengths, we can partner with others, support them where we are strong, and receive help where we need it.

Vicki Haverson is the Consultant Manager and Strengths-Based Development. Biz Group. She is an experienced strengths-spotter who is passionate about helping change the landscape of the work place through understanding, developing, and applying individual and team strengths.


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