There’s been a lot written about “strength-based” development approaches in recent years. You’re better off building on your natural strengths and talents, research suggests, than trying to improve your weaknesses. The usefulness of the strength-based approach explains its popularity. It makes good sense: put yourself in situations where your gifts and talents can be put to good use, and you’ll increase the likelihood of being successful. As the great motivational theorist Abraham Maslow said, “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself.”
Building on your strengths works best if you have a realistic hold on what your strengths actually are. Pinpointing your strengths takes a careful assessment of the totality of your makeup, and that includes acknowledging what you’re not actually good at. The challenge is that our self-perception is often rosy or cloudy, causing some people to highlight the brighter aspects (while minimizing the darker elements), and others to do the opposite.
In my new book, A Leadership Kick in the Ass, I describe how strengths can be taken too far, and how the overuse of our strengths often turns them into weaknesses. The leader who is comfortable speaking in public may come to hog attention. The leader who is a gifted critical thinker may become overly critical of others. The leader who is great interpersonally may place too much emphasis on subjective criteria when making decisions.
Every leader needs to be keenly aware that strengths can become overly potent, sometimes toxically so. The strength of drive can give way to dominance, which can become the weakness of intimidation. Likewise, the strength of confidence can slip over into the weakness of arrogance. Every leader is made up of sunshine and shadows. Paying attention only to the shiny parts of your leadership causes your shadow to grow, which sets yourself up for an ego-bruising event. Focusing solely on your strengths, and ignoring the dangers of their overuse, practically ensures a kick in the saltshaker.
By all means, focus on your strengths. But stay very aware of how their overuse can have diminishing returns. Everyone is made up of sunshine and shadows!
Bill Treasurer is the Chief Encouragement Officer at Giant Leap Consulting. He is the author of the bestselling books Courage Goes To Work and Courageous Leadership. His newest book, A Leadership Kick in the Ass, focuses on the crucial importance of leadership humility and is now available on Amazon. » Learn More.