Imagine something goes wrong with your hearing. Would you seek help from Hugh Laurie who played Dr. Gregory House on the TV show “House” or from Dr. John House, head of the justifiably world-respected House Ear Clinic in Los Angeles?

It’s a silly question. Isn’t it? Why then do we listen to so many people with borrowed expertise? As Gallup made it clear, real strengths are made up of talent, knowledge and skills. It’s not enough to study a subject. Expertise is born of practice.

Real strengths enable people to do what they need to do. Pretend strengths may be intriguing at first, but end up disappointing.

Too many people think they should be able to sell because they’ve worked with salespeople before, either as buyers themselves, providing support to sales, or making products or services that others sell. They can’t sell. Selling requires talent, knowledge and skills born of practice.

Too many people think they should be able to interview because they’ve been interviewed themselves. They can’t – unless they build those strengths.

Too many people think they can teach because they’ve been students.

Too many people think they can develop products because they’ve used products.

Too many people think they can manage because they’ve been managed.

You get the pattern.

It’s true for the big differences and it’s true on the margin. Working for an agency that serves Procter & Gamble does not give you the same experience as does working at Procter & Gamble itself.

Working for a finance institution that invests in companies does not give you the same experience as does working at those companies themselves.

Frontier Communications bought AT&T’s wire line services in Connecticut. They were excited because the transaction was going to: “be accretive” and “improve Frontier’s dividend payout” while customers “will have the same products and services that they currently enjoy”. (From their press release.)

Wasn’t true. The day of the transfer, my voicemail service got “disabled”. And it stayed disabled for 11 days. Each of the four times I called Frontier I was informed that they would “open a ticket”. I didn’t want a ticket. I wanted voicemail.

Frontier’s not a real phone company. It just plays one on TV. Just because you’ve used a phone doesn’t mean you can run a phone company. Frontier talked about implementing “its proven local engagement community-oriented go-to-market strategy”. Too bad they couldn’t deliver basic services.

Maslow said hammers run around the world looking for nails to hit. Today we’re evolving into a society of nails that think they can be hammers because they’ve been hit. It simply isn’t true.

Pretend strengths are figments of someone’s imagination. Real strengths are made up of talent, knowledge and skills.

• Talents are naturally acquired. You are either born with them or not. If you don’t have them, you’re never going to get them.

• Knowledge is learned through education, training, experience, qualification. You can always increase your knowledge by reading and studying.

• Skills are gained through practice whether they are technical, interpersonal or business related. Even if you’re born with a natural talent for music, you must study to learn music and practice to build skills.



• Know yourself. Know what you do and what don’t do. I’m not suggesting that your organization can’t acquire knowledge and skills. I’m not suggesting you can’t evolve into something different than what you are. I’m just suggesting that imagining you are something you are not is not good enough. Invest in the knowledge and skills before you pretend you actually are something you are not.

• Honor yourself. Once you know what you can do, do it. Treasure it. Talk about it. Invest in it. Do it over and over again. Do it better and better. Do it with pride. Do it with honor.

• Appreciate others. You don’t have to do everything yourself. Seek out others with strengths that complement your strengths. Collaborate with them to do things together that neither of you can do on your own.