Yup… Your Strengths Can Get You in Trouble!

Appreciating and leveraging our natural talents and accumulated strengths is an important element of a successful career.  Yet when those same valuable attributes are leaned on TOO heavily, they crowd out complementary behaviors. Heavy-handed reliance on our strengths creates a false sense of security and enables narrow, rigid thinking and can even drive away colleagues.

Two executives I coached recently got such feedback and were asked to work on their tendencies with their coach (me). They got down to business, and each of them recently forwarded to me emails from their CEOs with unsolicited praise about how they are showing up with colleagues. This big step forward took just a couple of months of focused intention. They each chose to step back and explore their assumptions about cause-and-effect. They had been over-attributing positive outcomes to particular behaviors (“strengths”) that they liked to use and under-attributing a few negative consequences (including employee demotivation and performance issues) to dynamics that they had inadvertently introduced.

Simple questions you can ask yourself: What else could be true (about my role in this issue)? When might my assumptions not be so consistently true? For example, if you think that you have to drive certain staff hard or check up on all their work to sustain high performance, you may be overlooking your negative impact: they may be afraid to ask for help when they need it, they may not trust themselves to take smart risks if they feel you don’t trust them, or they may withhold good ideas because they are rewarded to conforming tightly to your demands.

Keep playing to your true strengths when they serve your objectives – and remember they are part of a larger tool kit that is at your disposal! I’d love to hear your own examples of reining in an overused strength and what resulted.