I’ve been discussing the fact that leadership strengths training is so popular that we fail to recognize when strengths are overused. Most leaders are familiar with the concept of leadership competencies skill sets coming in pairs. Multiple assessment tools classify people’s preferences as either “task-oriented” vs. “people-oriented,” “big picture” vs. “detail-oriented” or “analytic” vs. “intuitive.”

While there are many different models of leadership competencies, the one proposed by Kaiser and Kaplan in their book Fear Your Strengths: What You Are Best at Could Be Your Biggest Problem (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013) illustrates the tension of dualities that arise in the execution of leadership responsibilities.

“…there are two core dualities that confront all leaders: the need to be forceful combined with the need to be enabling, and the need to have a strategic focus combined with the need to have an operational focus. Together these dualities constitute the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ of leading.”

The authors have used their Leadership Versatility Index (LVI), a 360-degree assessment tool, with more than 7,000 managers who have been rated by 60,000 coworkers. Their results show that the more forceful leaders are, the less enabling they’re likely to be. Strategic and operational leadership are also inversely related.

Big-picture/visionary leaders tend to struggle with implementation, while masters of implementation tend to ignore or underplay strategy. The same holds true for the forceful/enabling dynamic, Kaiser and Kaplan note.

The LVI data reveal a strong association between strategic leadership and high scores on curiosity and open-mindedness, coupled with low scores on rule-abiding/detail-orientation. The opposite associations were found for operational leadership.

Forceful and enabling leadership were related to a different set of traits. Forceful leadership was associated with high scores on ambition and low scores on interpersonal sensitivity. Enabling leadership was associated with the opposite scores.

  • Strategically oriented leaders are often lauded for their aggressiveness and vision, but criticized for not being sufficiently grounded in reality.
  • Operationally oriented leaders are often admired for their focus and ability to systematically drive an organization toward its goals, but they are also faulted for having tunnel vision and a lack of strategic boldness.

LVI research also reveals 97% of managers who overdo forceful leadership in some respect also underdo enabling leadership, according to their coworkers.

Additionally, 94% who overdo operational leadership in some way also underdo strategic leadership. Yet, only 55% of the managers rated by coworkers as using too much of a leadership attribute rated themselves as overdoing that attribute.

Does this surprise you? What do you think? As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be reached here or on LinkedIn.

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