In my discussion of leadership strengths, I emphasize that too much dependence on a strength can backfire. As examples:
- Too much strategic thinking leads to not enough attention to operational details.
- Too much dominance and hard-driving encouragement leads to not enough listening and empathy with individuals.
How do leaders manage people using their strengths to just the right degree—without overextending them to the point they become liabilities? Some leaders take full advantage of their natural talents, without going too far. But not all.
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 leadership 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 have the opportunity to 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 anytime soon. We, as leaders, have a lot of work to do to get this right. The Leadership Versatility Index (LVI) research finds only 5% of executives get it right when using forceful vs. enabling leadership, and that holds true as well for the strategic vs. operational dimension of leadership.
Most managers lean one way or another. This lopsidedness hurts personal and team effectiveness. Sound leadership depends on learning to stop overdoing a given attribute and underdoing its polar opposite.
Of course, to shift away from your preferred mindset is challenging, but worth a try. To successfully conquer this tendency, I recommend working with a coach’s help.