In my discussion of leadership strengths, I emphasize that too much dependence on a strength can backfire. Too much strategic thinking leads to not enough attention to operational details. Too much hard-driving encouragement leads to not enough listening to individuals.
How can leaders manage people by using their strengths “just right” without overextending them to the point they become liabilities? How do leaders take full advantage of their natural talents, without going too far?
Robert B. Kaiser and Robert E. Kaplan write about this in their book Fear Your Strengths: What You Are Best at Could Be Your Biggest Problem (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013). They offer some good suggestions.
The first step is to acknowledge where you overuse your strengths. Start with a review of the ratings on your most recent 360-degree report. Ask coworkers:
- What should I do more?
- What should I do less?
- What should I continue doing?
Ask yourself whether you privately pride yourself on being superior to other leaders in any way. This is precisely the attribute you’re at risk of overdoing. Take a look at its polar opposite. Explore with your coach how you can experiment with new behaviors that have been underused.
Fine-tuning your strengths is an art that requires a blend of self-awareness and situational awareness.
- Self-awareness allows you to handle challenges by responding appropriately rather than reactively. When you know what your default tendencies are, you can pause and mindfully choose a response instead of acting out of habit.
- Situational awareness helps you regulate the “volume controls” of your strengths with regard to audience and context.
It would be unrealistic to suggest that everyone can become fully balanced. The Leadership Versatility Index (LVI) research finds only 5% of executives get it right on forceful vs. enabling leadership, as well as strategic vs. operational leadership.
Most managers lean one way or another. This lopsidedness hurts your personal and team effectiveness. Sound leadership depends on learning how to stop overdoing a given attribute and underdoing its polar opposite.
Of course to shift your preferred mindset is challenging, but you can successfully conquer this goal with a coach’s help.