Developing yourself as an individual means improving on your strengths and finding a way to minimize your weaknesses. Recently, I’ve been reading the teachings of the late Peter Drucker, who many consider to be the father of modern business management. In fact, over his lifetime, Drucker wrote 39 books and produced countless newspaper columns, essays and educational films about corporate management, as well as teaching it in university.
This is his advice on how you can develop your strengths, according to Drucker’s writings and teachings:
Recognize the Need for Improvement
Before you can start to develop your strengths, you need to recognize that you need improvement. Confidence is great, but the one downside of having a lot of confidence is that it can leave you feeling like you are as good as you can get and don’t have any room for improvement.
The first step is to recognize that everyone can improve. Improvement doesn’t mean you’re bad at something. It just means you can do it better. Even if you feel like you’re at the top of your game, you can always push yourself to become better at something.
You have to be willing to improve and you have to have some kind of foundation to improve on. That foundation could be raw talent or it could be knowledge you’ve gained through experience. I’m not trying to discourage anyone from learning new skills. Obviously, starting something from scratch is possible, but it takes longer to improve at it than improving something you’re already good at or have natural ability for.
And the more natural talent you have at something, the more you can progress. Let’s say you have natural selling ability and you would rate yourself as a 6/10 as a salesperson. You could easily get to an all-star level of 9 or even 10/10. But, if you don’t have a lot of natural talent in sales — say, only a 3/10 — you would likely only be able to get to the level of a 7/10.
So, embrace what you’re naturally good at. Many people aren’t aware of their weaknesses and therefore they may believe they don’t need to improve on anything or get help to handle weak areas. To help you identify your strengths and weaknesses, talk with someone you trust who can provide you with honest feedback. Listen to what they have to say with an open mind and refrain from taking their feedback negatively. Look at it as a learning experience and a chance to discuss the areas that need improvement.
“Knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes.” – Peter Drucker
Concentrate on your strengths instead of your weaknesses
This may seem counterintuitive at first. If you don’t focus energy on your weaknesses, how are you going to eliminate them or get competent in those areas? If you think of it in terms of learning an instrument, if you do one thing really well already on an instrument (say, switching between chords on guitar), but you can’t do something else (like play fingerstyle), you need to practice the thing you can’t do so you can eliminate that weakness and become a better player.
However, what works for learning an instrument doesn’t always work in self development. Drucker says it’s better to concentrate on what you already do well so you can become an expert at it. Rather than being a well-rounded generalist, try to focus your attention on being the absolute best at one thing. That begs the question: What should you do about weaknesses, then?
Eliminate Your Weaknesses Through Partnership
Obviously you can’t just ignore what you’re weak at. You have to find a way to shore up weaknesses, but it’s possible to do that through partnerships with others. If you’re really good at A, but you struggle with B, find someone who is excellent at B, but who needs help with A. Together, you can each focus on what you’re strong at while the other one takes care of what you’re weak at.
To give you a real world example, many entrepreneurs, when they’re starting a new business, try to do everything themselves. But, even though they might be great at finding new markets and coming up with business ideas, they may not be competent at bookkeeping or marketing. So, the entrepreneur can partner with (or hire) someone who is strong in those areas rather than spend their precious time trying to get strong in those areas themselves.
Resist Comparing Yourself with Others
You can only be your best, not someone else’s best. Instead of focusing on what another person can or cannot do and how that relates to you, learn to appreciate what they can do and how you can learn from them instead. Comparisons will either leave you feeling bad because you don’t think you’re doing something as good as someone else or they’ll just feed your ego if you see that you can do something better than someone else (and possibly lead to a false sense of security with your own knowledge of a subject).
Layout a Training Program for Yourself
You can’t get somewhere if you don’t know where you’re going. If you want to improve a skill set or increase your expertise in an area, you’ll need to have a plan to do that. Research what courses you’ll need to take and work out a plan that gives you the time and opportunity to do that. Identify mentors you can potentially partner with and have a timeline to accomplish this.
When thinking about partnering with a mentor, Drucker suggests approaching people who inspire and even intimidate you. Depending on who you’re targeting, you may not be able to actually get in touch with these people, but if you keep your expectations reasonable and target people who you have a shot at meeting, you may find some of them receptive to acting in a mentorship role (or at least becoming a professional acquaintance).
“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” – Peter Drucker
Measure Your Progress
The only way to discern if you’re getting better at something is to measure your progress with actual results on a regular basis. How you do that will depend on what it is you want to measure, but preferably it should be something that you can put numbers to rather than just having a sense of whether you’re improving or not. Having a number you can reference is key to keeping your progress going. If you’re trying to improve your sales ability, for example, an obvious number you could use would be how much your sales have gone up by. Whatever you are trying to improve, come up with a solid measurement that you can rely on to keep track of your progress.
By following Peter Drucker’s advice and recognizing your need to improve, concentrating on your strengths, partnering with others, refraining from comparisons, having a plan for improvement and measuring your progress, you’ll be able to develop into an expert in your chosen field.