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A popular notion has taken hold in many management-development circles: Managers need focus only on their strengths rather than develop weak spots. But such thinking needs to be tempered with a healthy dose of reality, says the Center for Creative Leadership.

Managers do need to appreciate their strengths. If they don’t, they could waste time and effort attempting to get better at leadership skills they have already mastered. They could fail to leverage core skills that would help them be more successful. Or they could waste too much time and effort trying to develop in an area that for them may be out of reach.

“On the other hand, certain skills relied upon too heavily can become weaknesses,” says Center for Creative Leadership expert Sylvester Taylor. “Being overly decisive, for example, can lead to the impression of arrogance.”

Taylor also cautions against assuming that current strengths match the skill set needed as the job or circumstances change: “Your strongest asset may be your analytical ability and attention to detail. But building and managing relationships may be the more critical skill as you take on a broader role. If that is a weak point for you, you can’t afford to ignore it,” he says.

Rather than paying attention to only your strengths or only your weaknesses, Taylor suggests working on whatever issue is the most important in your situation. “Ultimately, development is development. It doesn’t matter if you are trying to build on strength or mitigate weakness,” Taylor says. “Determine what skill or behavior will best serve you and your organization. Develop that.”

For some, the skills or behaviors that need to be improved or leveraged may be apparent. Others may have difficulty identifying and prioritizing learning and development goals. Here are three steps you can take to succeed in this work:

First, get informed. What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? By gaining a clear, honest picture of yourself, you can begin to take the necessary steps to change. In Center for Creative Leadership programs, this is done through a combination of 360-degree assessments, observation and feedback. If you don’t have a formal mechanism for getting this input, you’ll have to rely on direct and honest feedback from your boss, colleagues and direct reports.

Second, gauge perceptions. To what degree does your perception of your strengths and weaknesses match how other people see you? If you underrate your abilities, chances are you are underperforming. If you overrate your abilities, a trait or skill that you see as a strength may, in fact, be undermining your effectiveness. You will want to revisit your so-called strength in the current context.

Third, evaluate your situation and set goals for improvement. Are your strengths having the effect you want? How are your weaknesses impeding results? What one thing could you do differently that would have the most beneficial impact if you were successful in changing? Your answers will help identify the most important area of development for you.

If you are clear about what is important to be effective in your role, you can be confident that your development efforts will be of value. Even doing a little better in a key skill area may make a big difference.

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