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To the Editor:

Julia Chinyere Oparah’s piece on leaders developing awareness of their weaknesses ("Is Focusing on Your Strengths Sabotaging Your Success?," March 4) was thought provoking. It contains some important insights for everyone, not just leaders.

What I don’t understand was the introduction. In it Oparah suggests that the tendency to lean into our strengths is either uniquely or at least primarily caused by being “raised a person of color, a woman, an immigrant, queer or trans, working class, or any other category that is routinely disparaged in this society.”

Has Oparah never met a white cishet man from an upper-class background who seemed unaware of his weaknesses as a leader?

Has Oparah never met perfectionists who are from majority groups?

Has Oparah ever actually met the private school kids she says “enthusiastically embraced their weaknesses and inconsistencies as opportunities to learn and grow”?

I can say that as someone from a fairly privileged background who’s also a perfectionist, I struggle with feelings of inadequacy. They were even worse in undergrad, when I could never write a paper unless it was in a last-minute panic of facing down a deadline. If I started earlier, all I could think of was how unoriginal and poor my ideas were. (Even being the first student in my literature class to get an A on any paper was not nearly enough to dispel this.) I can’t even blame my parents, who were always supportive and told me that C grades were all they asked of me academically.

I didn’t attend a private school in K-12, but my elite private R1 undergrad institution did have such students. I can tell you they did not embrace their weaknesses. Almost every student was petrified to ask a question in class lest they be thought stupid for not immediately understanding something. There was a memorable moment in an honors upper-division math class where the frustrated professor couldn’t get anyone to answer a single question. As he posed easier and easier questions, the class continued to refuse to answer, because anyone answering the easier questions would be seen as admitting that they couldn’t have answered the earlier, harder questions.

And I think we’ve all met leaders from privileged backgrounds who, far from embracing their weaknesses as leaders, seem entirely unaware of them.

I don’t understand why an otherwise excellent piece filled with good advice had to lean into mistaken notion that if someone feels bad about something or has a maladaptive behavior, it must be related to their race, or gender, or gender identity, or class, or ethnicity, or some other social category. Maybe we’re all just human. Certainly our experiences help shape us, and they can have statistical impacts on populations, but they’re not determinative.

—David Syphers

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