I spoke with a potential career counseling client. He phoned in what could be described a state of growing stress and anxiety. Needless to say, relatives and friends were all hounding him to improve himself. “You have got to get over your weaknesses! You have to learn new skills!” They were all telling him the same thing.
I took a gamble and asked if they were all using the same words. He went silent, obviously thinking about it, and responded, “You know what? They are!” “You have been set up, my friend.”
Now in this case the “set up” was positive, to a point. He was getting advice from people who generally cared about him, meant well, and were not speaking just to hear the sound of their own voices. So far so good. I then asked him what they meant by “get over your weaknesses.” It sounded like I was speaking to a former colleague.
I used to work at a Jewish Community Center. Think about any community center you have ever been in and you know pretty much what it looks like. Administrative offices in the front, auditorium and large meeting room in the center, meeting rooms to the side, fitness center in the back, classrooms and activity rooms on the second floor. Not the best place and far from the worst. But we did have an anomaly working for us.
Our facilities manager was the best in the business. No one was ever hurt in that building because of maintenance issues. If the floor was wet, there was a warning sign. If a bulb burnt out, it was immediately replaced. If a panel was loose, it was tightened or removed and replaced. A ceiling tile never fell on anyone.
Our facilities manager was also the worst people person in the world – let alone the business. This guy, married with three of the most beautiful (inside and out) daughters you have ever seen (Yes, we all asked him who their real father was ! And yes, in that case he would smile!), had no interpersonal skills. There was no filter. He said what he thought. And if he thought you were an idiot, he said so.
On the other hand, he also lent his staff money if they needed it, and even let a couple stay in his home when they were having domestic problems. He was rude and insulting, and kind and caring all at the same time. And no one ever got hurt in our building.
One day one woman asked me why we kept him. I said just that, no one has ever been hurt in the building. He’s hired to take care of things, not people. It’s my job to take care of people.
To my shock and horror, the powers-to-be decided to fire all the maintenance staff and hire an outside company to manage the facility. When asked my opinion I said that I thought it was stupid. Say what you will about our facilities manager, he cares about the facility. He puts in the hours. He makes certain everything is in perfect working order. An outside firm won’t care. And – no “I told you so” intended – they didn’t.
My caller and my former colleague suffered from the same problem. Great professional skills, lousy interpersonal ones. The caller’s friends and relatives all wanted him to take a Carnegie type course on making friends. I suggested something a little different. I told him that at his next interview, which was going to be in a couple of days, to say upfront, as soon as they give him the chance, “I have to be honest with you. I have lousy interpersonal skills. I’m not going to win any popularity contests. But I know my stuff, I get the job done, and never give less than 200%.”
The logic behind the advice was simple: You can’t change who you are. If you have a weakness, you have a weakness. If you try to overcome it by turning it into a strength, you will compromise your true strengths. No one is perfect. Everyone needs someone to complement them. One person’s weakness is another person’s strength and together they make up a team. It’s that simple. Don’t deny your weaknesses. Don’t hide your weaknesses. Embrace them!
Oh, and yes, if you need to learn a new skill, learn it!
As for the quality of my advice to my caller, I guess that depends on your opinion. He told me that after his interview he would call to set up an appointment to meet with me. Well, I lost a client. He followed my suggestion and they offered him a job. I guess my weakness is that I talk too much!
P.S. At one of my subsequent jobs, I worked at a nursing home. The facilities manager was one of the nicest people I had ever met. Occasionally I would have morning meetings in the CEO’s office. Every so often, when I arrived, I would discover a ceiling tile on the CEO’s chair, or in the middle of the conference table. Luckily they only fell when the room was empty…