Measuring Strength

At Riverside

I am loving the opportunity to tag along with Pepperdine’s cross country program this season as the Waves race toward the conference and regional championship meets. For those unfamiliar, although cross country appears on the surface to be an individual sport, a team’s score depends on the finish place of the top five runners on the team.¹ Therefore, a great finish by four runners can be wasted without a solid finish from runner number five.

Hang on to that thought.

I preferred to study alone in law school, but more often than not law students form study groups to help process the complex material encountered in class. The advice I remember (and now deliver) is to be careful when forming a study group because the group will proceed at the pace of the slowest student.

You are following along nicely, aren’t you? An organization is only as strong as its weakest member.

The analogy to any department, team, group, business, class, family, etc. is pretty obvious—as are the choices of what to do with this information. One option is to replace the weak with someone strong,² but often times such drastic measures are not possible, like, oh, say, a family for instance. The other option is not to be so enamored with the superstar strengths in your organization and focus on improving the weakest unit(s). That just makes sense.

What isn’t so obvious is taking this same concept and looking into the mirror, mirror on the wall.

It is hard to consider a more complex organization than an individual human being. Setting aside the astonishingly complex biology and considering only the complex amalgamation of traits, skills, interests, passions, and experiences of each person, it is interesting to consider that we as individuals are also only as strong as our weakest part.

The same lesson and same options remain for a stronger future: If possible, eject the weakness, but more likely than not, focus on making the weakest part stronger.

Locate your fifth runner and pay special attention to its training. It will determine where you finish.


¹ Wave student-athlete, Trevor Sytsma, explains this well in his excellent blog post at

² Jim Collins says it this way: “[L]eaders of companies that go from good to great start not with ‘where’ but with ‘who.’ They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.”

2 responses to “Measuring Strength

  1. Al, I am enjoying your posts on “Starting to Look Up.” The one this week is well done, though I will share a complimentary point. I have found that as an individual playing to one’s strengths rather than trying to shore up weaknesses is the superior approach to life or winning in sports. I don’t mean to say that one shouldn’t shore up weak areas at all, but the emphasis should be on strengths. Here’s an example: I play a lot of singles tennis. My strength is playing from the baseline (back on the court), not charging the net. If I find myself behind in a match, some would argue that I should switch my game to one of serve and volley (getting to the net fast rather than staying back). This approach might have some positive effect as a surprise factor, but it is limited because now I am trying to win by playing from weakness. Rather, I should focus on the fundamentals of my baseline game which will give me a better chance of turning the match around. Of course, sometimes you are just simply outmatched and no strategy will work.

    In business I believe executives should play from their strengths while shoring up their weaknesses with talented folks.

    I always enjoy your thought provoking lessons here and in the pulpit.

    Jere >

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you! Point very well taken, and I could not agree more. Emphasize strengths. If I rewrote the post, I would also do a better job explaining “eject the weakness,” which is what I envision in your decision to forego attention to charging the net. Once that decision is made, I suspect you could then pay important attention to whatever is weakest in your baseline game.

    Thank you again for your kind words. Your encouragement means a lot to me.


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