Turn your flaws into fortes


Instead of hiding your weaknesses, you should look at them as opportunities for improvement and a way of doing things differently because you would then approach a problem or challenge from a new perspective.

Q: As you’re the leader of such a massive company, what do you think your greatest strengths and weaknesses are these days? — Haermana Sivamohan

As an entrepreneur, you can’t hide your weaknesses, no matter how big or small your business is. They are obvious to your colleagues and employees, and since the structure and culture of your business will reflect them, it’s likely your competitors and customers know about them as well.

Those weaknesses can become even more apparent and, in some cases, debilitating, if you try to pretend that they don’t exist.

Over the course of my career I’ve learned that it’s vital to identify your weaknesses and come to terms with them. Once they are out in the open, you can deal with them and move forward — or even turn them into strengths.

Throughout my life, I’ve always been very open about my dyslexia. As I have written in the past, when I was a kid, very few people understood that this was a disability. My teachers thought I was lazy and not very clever, mainly because I got bored easily in class and sometimes had a hard time following the written lessons, and passed the time daydreaming instead about all the things I would do when I left school.

The key to turning a disadvantage into an advantage is to recognise the opportunities before you, even if others see only challenges.

You must have the courage to trust your instincts and be ready to ask questions that other people are not. And you must seize the chances that other people might miss.

I learned this myself as an entrepreneur, as I turned my dyslexia to my advantage. Instead of struggling to follow written text, I asked our team to sum up our latest pitches to customers in a few words.

This prompted me to focus on simplicity — if our offer couldn’t be summed up clearly and simply, we couldn’t expect our customers to buy it. Eventually this became one of the most powerful tools in my bag of business tricks, and fundamental to Virgin’s success.

As my teachers also noticed, I am insatiably curious and restless; that made me perhaps difficult to manage as a boy, but I definitely consider it a strength now. It’s related to my willingness to say “yes,” which many have called a weakness — and they’d say it’s one that I have struggled with for some time. I view these aspects of my personality as assets.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not a yes man, but an optimist. I learned early in my career that opportunity favours the bold. I like to try my hand at everything, and experience has shown me that if an amazing opportunity comes your way, and you are not entirely sure how you can benefit from it, you should still say yes, then figure out the rest later.

While my “screw it, let’s do it!” philosophy hasn’t always led to huge wins (we’ve experienced some epic failures too), we’ve learned so much from the twists and turns that we’ve encountered along the way. It pushes our company outside its comfort zones and spurs us to accomplish amazing things.

And if something doesn’t work out... well, everyone, especially entrepreneurs, should embrace failure with open arms.

These days, my greatest strength is my ability to have fun — and again, this could be perceived by some entrepreneurs as a weakness. Business leaders are generally expected to show up at the office in a suit and tie, ready to command authority with a stern look. But it has always been my opinion that we should do what we love, and love what we do.

And after more than 40 years in business, I still love what I do, and I am still having fun.

Haermana, we all have weaknesses — and I’m sure my friends, family and colleagues could highlight more areas in which I don’t always make the grade. But every challenge in our lives is there for a reason: So that we can figure out how to turn it into a strength. — Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate

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