Successful leaders embrace their weaknesses

Know what you're good at, says Sarah Willingham.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 21 Jun 2019

It’s easy to expect the CEO to be highly proficient in all areas of corporate strategy, people management and customer relations.

While it’s true most will have a stellar understanding of strategy and no shortage of functional expertise, the most successful possess a much more understated trait: self-awareness.

After a career spanning corporate roles at high-street chains, as an entrepreneur growing and selling multi-million pound businesses, and now as a full time investor alongside husband Michael Toxvaerd, the one-time Dragon’s Den star Sarah Willingham knows what it takes to grow a successful business.

But she says it was only once she’d learnt to embrace her weaknesses that she was able to meet her full potential.


"If you're open to being self aware, responsive to feedback and prepared to self-reflect, then I think you become a better leader.

"But it’s a journey you have to go on. Take time to learn more about yourself and the impact you have on others. The fact is you’re not going to be brilliant at everything.

"For me personally that moment came when I took an MBA at Cranfield University. We did psychometric testing, but I was also put into extreme situations where realise you definitely have a default role.

"That was the tipping point that allowed me to realise that it is okay to acknowledge my weakness and that I needed to fill those gaps through other people.

"After that I started to recruit differently. Up to that point I’d always tried to recruit my mirror image, which was actually a weakness. A values system has always been important to me, so now I recruit people who share similar values, but have different skills to me.

"There are certain elements of business that I know I’m good at, and certain elements that I know I’m not very good at. Between the two of us, Michael and I have a lot of bases covered. I have a strong bias towards consumer facing businesses, whereas he is very strong when it comes to B2B, but we also have a business manager that works with us.

"That doesn't mean that you can’t become good at things, and you don’t always need to delegate stuff that you’re weak on, but it comes down to self awareness and knowing what is going to be better for the business."


Image credits:  Eskay Lim / EyeEm/gettyimages

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