But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
2 Corinthians 12:9
Having studied many individuals who have fallen because of particular weakness in their lives, I realise we are all human and weakness matters. Allow me to share two thoughts about weakness.
1. We all have weaknesses
It is unfashionable to admit we have weaknesses, especially in our Asian culture. Admitting weakness is to lose face. Even when our failures are revealed, we often deny them and deflect the blame.
We all suffer from one or more weaknesses. These could include deep-seated character flaws, personality weakness, competence weakness or over-utilisation of our strengths, or emotional weakness when negativity overwhelms our minds.
2. We are bound to fail
I believe that no-one is spared from failure and we will fail sometime, unless we give time and effort to address our weaknesses. We all fail and falter but we need to recover.
I would like to share with you lessons I have personally learned about transforming my weakness into strength. This will be a work-in-progress until the day I die.
Weakness helps me recognise my humanness
One of my areas of expertise is conflict management. I have trained literally thousands of mediators and conflict managers. I have done research on this subject. It is easy for me to advise parties mired in conflict to “stay calm”, “learn to listen” and “see the other person’s perspectives”. At work, people often see me as a professional.
At home, I am but an amateur. When personally involved in marital or family conflict, I often lose control, become emotional and react negatively. I don’t manage my own conflicts well.
Sometimes, I do it really badly. It is then that I realise that I am only human and need help. At one point, the conflict in my family was so bad that I had to seek professional help and see a psychiatrist. That was an important breakthrough in my life.
Weakness helps me accept the gift of limits
My weakness helps me appreciate that I have limitations and recognise that I am no superman. In the past, I thought I could do everything. But my weakness makes me recognise that I do have limits and cannot solve every problem. I must leave the role of “saviour of the world” to God.
I have learned to actively seek feedback, both good and bad. Part of recognising our limitations must be a willingness to learn and accept bad news and correction from others. This helps us stay humble and keep improving.
Weakness helps me laugh at myself
A healthy way of handling our weakness is being able to laugh at ourselves. In fact, I believe that unless we can laugh at ourselves, particularly our weaknesses, we are not emotionally healthy.
The principle is to take God seriously, not ourselves. This frees us from becoming too obsessed with our needs, idiosyncrasies, pride, or failures.
My daughter Meizhi and I are incredibly clumsy. We trip frequently and have accidentally knocked over drinks. People tease us about our ineptness, and we often feel embarrassed, get defensive and sometimes, even become angry with them. We used to beat ourselves up inside over this weakness. The more we tried to be less clumsy, the more we failed and the more people would laugh at us.
But now, we have learned to accept this handicap as part of our “givens” in life and to laugh at ourselves. It frees us to be ourselves and we can support each other, as well as keep each other accountable.
Weakness reminds me of the need for accountability
We need communities of accountability to inform us and help us manage our weaknesses as well as companions to support us.
I serve in a non-profit organisation, Eagles Communications. The Founder-President is Peter Chao and Executive Vice-President, Michael Tan, who has been my buddy since Primary One. We started working together at 14 and have served with Eagles for 45 years.
We joke among ourselves that there is nothing Peter and Michael would not do for me – and there’s nothing I would not do for them. And for 45 years, we have not been doing “absolutely nothing” for each other!
Peter is straightforward, candid and razor-sharp in his insights into people. He calls himself “the snake-slayer”. Michael is more thoughtful, slow to anger and less driven to act. He is our “snake-tamer”. Finally, I am more of a peacemaker, less confrontational and more willing to compromise and seek agreement. They call me a “snake-charmer”.
We handle conflicts very differently. But we listen carefully and take each other’s advice seriously. We are not afraid to correct one another. In major decisions, we are usually unanimous. If we are not of the same mind, however, we delay making a decision. After a decision is taken, we are in full support of one another. We stand united.
One of the secrets of our synergy is our companionship of support and community of accountability. I once made a most critical error in leadership – a younger leader whom I had nurtured turned against me. Michael and Peter were the first to be there to comfort, correct and support me – in that order.
It is through these checks and balances that we appreciate, trust and build up one another. Till today, we complement each other so well – we make up for each other’s weaknesses and enhance each other’s strengths.
Weakness keeps us humble
In my journey of leadership, I have learned humility. It is one of the hardest lessons to learn and to practise. Succumbing to flattery is one of my major weaknesses.
To cultivate humility, I have learned to become more conscious in:
• becoming more other-centred
• accepting my own limitations and humanness
• admitting wrong
• learning to listen more, even to younger subordinates
• leveraging on the strengths of other team members
• managing around my own and others’ weaknesses
• using my strengths and networks to help my staff succeed and raise their potential
These are behaviors I measure myself against and have asked my team to hold me accountable for.
Weakness helps me become more realistic, less judgmental and more forgiving
One of the benefits of appreciating my own weakness is to become more realistic about other people. Now I am seldom surprised or grieved by leadership failures. I am more appreciative of leaders’ limitations and humanness, which has made me less judgmental and more tolerant of weaknesses and mistakes.
Indeed, weaknesses can become our strengths if we care to acknowledge them, recognise the need to be held accountable and find people to complement what we lack.
In all these, God can be our guide, provider, and ultimate source of strength. For we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13).
With His help, weakness can be transformed into strength!
God can be our guide, provider, and ultimate source of strength. For we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
Dr John Ng is the President of Meta Consulting, and is well-versed in the art of motivation and management. He is Chair of Eagles Communications’ Board of Governance and the Honorary Chair of the Eagles Mediation and Counseling Centre Board of Governance. A sought-after speaker, John worships at Pentecost Methodist Church.