Forget about ‘working on your weaknesses’

Whether it’s presentation skills or technical ability, every student has weaknesses. Should you painstakingly try to improve those skills through hard work and dedication? According to professor Jan de Vuijst, the answer is no. True greatness comes to those who strengthen their strengths, not their weaknesses.

De Vuijst teaches leadership, strategy and governance at the TIAS School for Business and Society. In an opinion piece published on the website of MT, a magazine for managers, he writes that there is a ‘strange myth’ that stubbornly continues to circulate in the world of business leaders. According to that myth, effective leaders are all-rounders: they know a little bit about everything, and they have a large set of basic skills. Training programs are often aimed at making managers more all-round, by focusing on what they don’t know or what they can’t do. “But it’s much more effective to build on skills that someone already possesses.”


Why struggle through your less proficient talents if you could also focus on improving skills that come naturally, energize you, and set you apart from others? According to De Vuijst, business leaders should focus on what they enjoy doing and what they’re good at. But what about students? Should they, too, strengthen their strengths instead of their weaknesses?

“It’s within your comfort zone that you can achieve true mastery.”

“Sometimes you have to work hard for something that doesn’t come naturally and that doesn’t energize you. You can’t always avoid that”, De Vuijst says. “But the general idea applies to students too: if something doesn’t give you energy and you’re not good at it, quit it.”

Comfort zone

Like managers, students should try to focus on developing their natural talents. “That alone is plenty of work”, De Vuijst says. On the road to success, stepping outside your comfort zone and forcing yourself to confront your weaknesses isn’t always a good idea. “It’s within your comfort zone that you can achieve true mastery.”

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