A 3-step plan for turning weaknesses into strengths

by Joseph Grenny

January 30, 2017 | 10:25 am
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Research shows that 97% of people can readily identify a career-limiting habit they have. We’re unreliable, lack empathy, avoid conflict or fear risk. While we’re clear that our weaknesses cost us both personally and professionally, few of us make any progress in turning them into strengths. In fact, managers report that after giving people feedback in a performance review, fewer than 10% look any different a year later. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The keys to improving most weaknesses are:


Bad habits and chronic weaknesses are usually not due to simple cognitive or behavioral gaps in our abilities but are rather a deeply habitual and practiced response to feelings of anxiety, inadequacy or fear. The way to make progress is to identify the nature of the moments that provoke these ineffective responses. Pay attention to the times, places, social circumstances, moods, physiological states or risk perceptions that incite you to act in ways that lead to bad results. These are your crucial moments. The good news about crucial moments is that they shrink the size of your problem. Change seems daunting when you think it requires eternal vigilance. In fact, it’s usually about handling a few minutes per day better than you have in the past.


Swedish psychologist Anders Ericsson has shown that our learning curve steepens the most when we engage in what he calls deliberate practice. These are brief episodes of intense focus where we practice a skill under relatively real conditions. If these intense practice episodes are coupled with immediate feedback, learning accelerates even more. Psychologist Albert Bandura refers to this as guided mastery and found that we can overcome profound emotional barriers to success if we engage in this kind of skill rehearsal under circumstances with the right mix of safety and challenge.

Once you identify your crucial moments, identify moderately challenging situations where you can practice the target skill. An important element of deliberate practice is the focus on a discrete skill. If you are studying up on skills for crucial conversations, focus on one: for example, creating safety.


Be sure your plan includes the development of skills for managing the inevitable emotions that accompany confronting a weakness. Simply forcing yourself to attempt a terrifying or uncomfortable behavior is not a success in and of itself; provoking these unpleasant emotions will simply reinforce that this is an act to be avoided. You must seek out tactics you can use to make the unpleasant act more pleasant, or at least manageable. By doing so, you gradually retrain your brain to change its formula for predicting how you’ll feel in your crucial moments.

You can change your career-limiting habit if you identify your own crucial moments, seek out brief and intentional opportunities for deliberate practice and build skills in addressing emotional barriers to your progress. Don’t let fear or inertia hold you back.

by Joseph Grenny

January 30, 2017 | 10:25 am
  |     |     |   Start Conversation

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