First a quote: “Greatness lies not in being strong, but in the right use of strength.” – Henry Ward Beecher
Good morning and happy Monday!
I have had the good fortune of serving as an executive coach over the last couple of decades for dozens of senior leaders in a wide variety of industries. It has been a richly rewarding experience and one of the favorite aspects of my career and consulting practice. I have often entertained the idea of writing a book of the lessons learned over the years as an executive coach.
This morning, I’m sharing one of the most important observations I have made over the years of executive coaching. I begin with a bold statement delivered here in two parts. Following is Part 1:
Part 1: The weaknesses you have as a person, friend, spouse, parent, or leader, are not likely to cause you the biggest challenges in your relationships, or in your role as a leader. While it is sometimes true that some behavioral weaknesses can cause huge issues for us if we ignore them, my experience suggests our weaknesses aren’t the source of most of our behavioral challenges.
My reasoning is, if we have even a basic level of personal self-awareness, most of us are acutely aware of our weaknesses and areas of opportunity for improvement. Perhaps we recognized them on our report cards in school, or at college, maybe we have heard about them in past performance reviews, or just maybe, we’re lucky enough to have a caring friend, colleague, or significant other who has had the courage to offer constructive feedback. Or maybe, we’re just extra reflective about our personal behaviors and the reactions that are reflected back from others.
In my case, I’m lucky enough to be married to a person who lovingly reminds me on a regular basis that I’m not a good listener. I know that to be true! I am painfully aware I can be easily distracted, and worse yet, multi-tasking while listening. But, because of that awareness, listening better is something that is top of mind for me. It is something I am continuously working on every day. (And yet, have much improvement still to be made. 😊)
Continuing now with Part 2 of my bold statement.
Part 2: I again suggest your behavioral weaknesses are not likely to cause you the most difficult challenges in your relationships. More likely, your relational or leadership challenges are caused by strengths you possess that you overuse! Strengths overused are the biggest area of opportunity for most of the leaders I have coached. Why is that?
You are where you are, in large part, because of your strengths.
The strengths you possess have served you well and have gotten you this far in your career, life, or relationships. It is likely those strengths have been rewarded and reinforced throughout your career or life. So, those strengths are likely to drive your “go to” behaviors, especially when stressed, tired, or under pressure to act. As a result, we tend to overuse those strengths even when a different behavior would have served us, or others, better.
“Strengths, when overused, present many leaders with their most difficult behavioral challenges to master and overcome.”
Here are just a few examples:
- Being decisive is an important leadership quality. However, decisiveness when overused by leaders may be perceived as dictatorial, impatient, overreactive, or not inclusive. It may also cause you to miss important facts, or input from others, by acting too quickly.
- Being analytical is an important leadership skill as well, and when overused, may cause a leader to be overly perfectionistic or too slow to adapt to rapidly changing conditions, or make quick decisions when they are required.
- Being a team player is an important leadership skill and yet there are times when a leader must act quickly with minimal input from their team or those around them.
- Being willing to “speak one’s mind” is an important leadership quality in critical situations and is also an important leadership quality. When overused however, that ability may be perceived as uncaring, close minded, excessively blunt, or even abusive.
- What examples can you think of?
The other challenge with “strengths overused” is that they are often tucked away in our blind spot, and unless we actively seek feedback, remain stubbornly hidden from our consciousness. We go on overusing the strengths that have served us well in the past, but at some point, begin to work against us.
Could it be that “strengths overused” are a challenge in your relationships or for you as a leader? Maybe this is a good week to ask for a little feedback from people who care about you and are willing to offer important insights into your blind spots. I suggest asking questions like:
- What do you appreciate about my leadership style and approach?
- What could I do more of? Less of? Do differently? Do better?
- What quality do I possess that I tend to overuse? When do I tend to overuse those qualities?
- Would you be willing to give me feedback when you see me overuse one of my strengths?
If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, I recommend the book:
How will you live, love, or lead differently, or better this coming week?
“Expanding Your Capacity for Success”
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- “Team leaders have to connect with their team and themselves. If they don’t know their team’s strengths and weaknesses, they cannot hand off responsibilities to the team. And if they don’t know their own strengths and weaknesses, they will not hand off responsibilities to the team.” – John C Maxwell
- “There are two ways of exerting one’s strength: one is pushing down, the other is pulling up.” – Booker Washington
- “In most cases, strengths and weaknesses are two sides of the same coin. A strength in one situation is a weakness in another, yet often the person can’t switch gears. It’s a very subtle thing to talk about strengths and weaknesses because almost always they’re the same thing.” – Steve Jobs
- “Our strength grows out of our weakness.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
- “Everyone, regardless of ability or disability, has strengths and weaknesses. Know what yours are. Build on your strengths and find a way around your weaknesses.” – Brad Cohen
- “Cultivate a deep understanding of yourself – not only what your strengths and weaknesses are but also how you learn, how you work with others, what your values are, and where you can make the greatest contribution. Because only when you operate from strengths can you achieve true excellence.” – Peter Drucker
- “Life is very interesting… in the end, some of your greatest pains, become your greatest strengths.” – Drew Barrymore
- “Where there is no struggle, there is no strength.” – Oprah Winfrey
- “Each relationship nurtures a strength or weakness within you.” – Mike Murdock