Make Sure Your Strengths Don’t Become Weaknesses

Do you want to improve as a leader? Conventional wisdom will tell you, “build on your strengths, compensate for your weaknesses.” But there’s more to it than that.

Think about what you believe are your biggest leadership strengths – the qualities you trust and rely on, what others have said they admire most about you. Are you strategically brilliant? visionary? nurturing?

Now think about your biggest weaknesses – the things you don’t like to do, don’t do well, find frustrating – or the things others find frustrating about you. I’ll bet you find that your weaknesses are the flip side of your strengths.

  • If you’re strategically brilliant … you may struggle to listen to and value others’ input.
  • If you excel at defining and inspiring others with a vision … your attention may flag when it’s time for execution.
  • If you are nurturing, supportive, create a caring environment for people … you may have a difficult time confronting performance problems.

Okay, you already know that you are a package of strengths and weaknesses. But what hidden pitfalls come with this package?

  • Often, “building on your strengths” can turn into lopsided leadership. Especially under stress, we can apply our strengths in an extreme fashion, or use them in situations where they don’t fit what’s needed.
  • Most leaders with big strengths have been rewarded for those strengths, over the course of many years.  If that’s true for you, you may have a blind spot about the cost of the associated weakness. If you’re strategically brilliant, you may discount the importance of soliciting others’ perspectives.
  • If you’ve spent years being rewarded for a big strength, it’s likely that you get personal gratification from applying that strength. As a result, you may be reluctant to coach and develop your reports in growing that particular capability. You may find yourself frequently parachuting in to provide the capability because they “can’t do it as well as you can” – an attitude which masks your reluctance to let go of it and help them step up.
  • You may not realize when situations change and what worked in the past no longer works.  For example, the scope of your role may have increased, and you can no longer rely on being expert in every area you manage. Or, the industry environment may have changed and you need to take in new viewpoints.

So what can you do to mitigate the potential downsides and keep your strengths from becoming weaknesses?

Do a rigorous self-assessment about your strengths and their potential downsides. (It can help to ask trusted colleagues for their input.)  Recognize that your tendency will be to diminish the downsides, and get your colleagues’ help to see your impact more clearly.

Notice and change your “self-talk”.  If you find yourself avoiding a performance problem because you are afraid to wound your employee, what’s another way to look at that dilemma? Could you imagine, for example, that the employee might value hearing authentic feedback about a performance gap, because it gives them an opportunity to do something about it?

Be willing to let go of the strength in its current form. If you’re strategically brilliant but unable to coach, developing as a coach may mean that your strategic brilliance no longer is the most salient thing about you.  Hopefully that will be okay with you, if others now see you as a stellar coach of others’ strategic capability.

Create a structure, including expectations and roles for others, to help reduce the risk. If you know you’re great at visioning but lose interest for execution, charter your leadership team members with the responsibility for pushing to ensure there is an execution roadmap for every new objective.

Surround yourself with the kind of people you DON’T like to surround yourself with. The people you DO want to surround yourself with are likely to be just like you, and possess the qualities you most value. You don’t need them. You need the people who drive you crazy because they’re different, you don’t understand how you think – and who bring the very viewpoint you need to take into account.

Are YOUR strengths a double-edged sword? Let us know your thoughts.

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