Did you know that 50 percent of all doctors graduated in the bottom of their class? Early in my sales career, I loved sharing this very interesting fact; it proved especially useful when I was selling against HMOs in the days when indemnity plans meant you could choose any provider. That’s when I realized most anything that can be measured by definition is at or below average. This simple concept has fascinated me for years.
These days, this concept is top of mind in every coaching call. Why? The majority of people who come to me do so because they are paying attention to things they do that are below average (i.e., a real or perceived weakness). They come to coaching, believing if they can improve their weaknesses they will move forward. It is true they can move forward, but, generally, it will have minimum impact.
Think about this: Let’s say you are consistently performing at the 10th percentile in any given skill (a weakness). You work with a coach and increase your performance to the 20th percentile. The net result is you doubled your performance as a percentage, but in relative terms, you are still just at the 20th percentile and a far cry from excellence.
On the other hand, let’s say you work with a coach on a strength for which you are performing at the 90th percentile and are able to improve to the 99th percentile. That is just a 10% increase as a percentage, but look at the impact. It is like NOT being close to making the Olympic team (90th percentile) and then almost winning the gold medal (99th percentile). Now, that is impact!
So, if you want to increase performance, what do you focus on? Do you work really hard to get marginally better at something you are not great at and don’t like, or achieve near perfection in an area where you already excel?
As a coach, I try to help you shift your attention away from focusing on your weaknesses and your desire to improve them towards your areas of strength. When you become aware of your unique talents and strengths, you naturally begin to change your beliefs. As you start to pay attention to your strengths, you begin to move forward by improving what you already do well, enabling you to work around weaknesses by eliminating and/or delegating them.
Does it really work? Ask Wendy Sherman. For years, she shouldered the burden of not being able to create and follow a budget. It was when she let go of the belief that she had to do it all herself and acknowledged that repetitive, mundane tasks (such as entering data in a budget) were a weakness.
In contrast, she focused on her strong people skills, which allowed her to move forward. Wendy called on a friend who excelled in repetitive tasks and delegated that weakness to her. She returned the favor by bringing more social interaction to her friend who was introverted. Interacting with her friend socially, she turned her attention to a strength, that is, people skills. This simple shift enabled her to achieve a goal she had been challenged by for years.
The bottom line: The next time you look at a problem or a weakness you feel is hindering you, pause and ask yourself: Is this something that is above or below the 50% line? If it’s below, think about how you can shift your attention to something you do that is above the 50% line and focus on that; this will help you move forward in a more natural manner.