What Leaders Can Learn From Their Limitations


If you don’t understand your limitations you won’t achieve much in your life. – Kevin Costner

During his first year of graduate study at the University of California at Berkeley, George B. Dantzig (later known as the father of linear programming) arrived late for a statistics class. He saw two problems on the blackboard. Assuming they were homework, he copied them and a few days later turned in his solutions. One Sunday morning six weeks afterward, the professor appeared at Dantzig’s door, waving a manuscript. It turned out that the professor had merely written two examples of unsolvable problems on the blackboard. The manuscript was Dantzig’s work readied for publication.

Limitations have a way of introducing us to ourselves. For some that can be an unacceptable reality. For others it can be a challenge to accept and an opportunity to seize. It all comes down to how you look at it.

For George Dantzig, he had the benefit of being late to class and thus was not aware that the problems on the board had been deemed ‘unsolvable” and thus approached the task quite differently than his classmates.

How you look at the limitations and obstacles that you face as a leader goes a long way in determining your leadership style going forward. It not only impacts you personally as a leader but it sets the tone for those around you. So what is a proper approach to facing limitations you may have? Here are three approaches worth consideration.

Limitations allow you to focus on your strengths

As a leader you can sit around and bemoan the fact that you do not possess a certain talent or attribute that is somehow holding you back. You can use it as a crutch and allow it to be your “excuse card” for your lack of progress. Or, you can re-direct your focus and build off your strengths.

When you shift your focus off of your limitations and turn it towards your areas of strength it becomes a liberating factor in your leadership. When you can thrive in the sweet spot of your strengths it will change your outlook, it will give you confidence, and will put you and your team on the right path.

Limitations cause you to build strong teams

Understanding your limitations should be empowering for you as a leader. It’s when you realize that you do not have to possess all the answers and that your wok does not have to be unproductive that your “limitations” no longer have to define you.

A smart leader realizes that the key to building a successful team is found in its diversity. What is an area of weakness or limitation for you is a strength for someone else, and their area of weakness may be the area you excel in. The secret is to play to your strengths and build off of it. As a leader you don’t have to be great at everything-just be great at one thing and let your people do the same. When you do you will be unstoppable.

Limitations create uncommon opportunities

How different do you think your organization would function if all of your team members played exclusively to their strengths? What impact do you think it would have on morale, productivity, and your bottom line? I dare say it would be profound.

I think it’s important to have margin in our lives. That is to say we should all be striving to improve and be the very best we can be and be open to learning new things. But we have to be realistic as well. We create opportunities for success when we put the right people in the right place and play to our strengths.

When you understand your limitations then you can maximize your strengths to your advantage. You can turn ordinary opportunities turn into extra-ordinary ones not because you have limitations, but because you understood them and you surrounded yourself with the right people.


© 2015 Doug Dickerson


About dougdickerson

I am Certified Leadership Trainer, author, columnist, and speaker. Husband to Alicia, father to Katelyn and Kara, and "Pop" to terrific grandson Tyson. I am an avid photographer, love the outdoors, and like to travel. I'm passionate about sharing my leadership insights and helping people reach their full potential.
This entry was posted in Leadership and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

What's your opinion?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s