Should you play to your strengths or shore-up your weaknesses? If you pose this question to a group of professionals some will answer play to your strengths, some will answer shore-up weaknesses and others will answer both. The truth is that they are all correct to a degree…The real answer lies in understanding the context, environment, and priority of the situation to which the question is being posed.

Continued professional growth, leading to increased performance over time, is what separates the good from the great. Rapidly evolving markets demand that successful business people have a fluidity in their approach to professional development. However many executives and entrepreneurs focus on the wrong areas, at the wrong times, and for the wrong reasons in their efforts to refine and improve their skill sets. In today’s post, I’ll share insights on how to prioritize your professional development efforts…

The focus needs to be applied to areas that can have the greatest impact on your performance. It is nothing short of foolishness to waste time, energy, or capital on improving weaknesses that don’t matter. Unless a weakness creates a barrier between you and the completion of your mission, adversely impacts relationships, or impedes you from utilizing your strengths, it is not really a weakness that needs to be addressed.

As an example, if you are a CEO with poor interpersonal communication skills that prohibit you from being able to articulately and persuasively sell the corporate vision, you should immediately go to work on improving your communication. By way of contrast, if you’re a CEO who has poor administrative skills, who cares? It is likely that as CEO you have unfettered access to administrative support to which you can delegate activities that are not the highest and best use, to begin with, so why worry about how fast you keyboard, filing nomenclature, naming conventions, or how to work the scanner?

It is critical that you understand it takes much more dedication, determination, and energy to go from poor to mediocre than it does to move from good to great. It is also important to check your motivation and interest level in determining which areas you desire to improve upon. If you’re not passionate about something it is difficult to be motivated, and without motivation, it is virtually impossible to maintain any interest.  As a busy executive or entrepreneur you only have so much time in a day so don’t waste it on areas that do not improve relationships, add value, or create leverage.

Those of you who are familiar with my philosophy understand the importance of focus. However as important as the focus is, of equal or greater importance is what you choose to focus on. As mentioned above, the focus needs to be brought to bear on issues that stand between where you are and where you want to go. Understanding how to identify barriers is mission-critical to your ability to succeed in business. Barriers are best identified as things that can be removed through acquiring knowledge (training, continuing education, self-learning, etc.), improving skills (training, practice, focus), leveraging down or out (delegation, partnering or outsourcing), and gaining experience (broadening roles, more tenure, being mentored, etc.).

Bottom line…Focused professional development requires 1) Motivation to improve; 2) the ability to identify barriers; 3) determining the proper method of removing the barrier by improving skill sets, acquiring knowledge, applying third party leverage, or gaining experience; 4) Conducting a cost/benefit and risk/reward assessment to determine whether the barrier needs to be addressed immediately, over the mid-range or the long-term, and; 5) remembering that discerning strengths and weaknesses are not always easy in that there is often strength in weakness and weakness is often found in strength, but that’s another post altogether.