When Strengths Become Weaknesses

I have been working in the area of Executive Assessment, Executive Coaching and Leadership Development for several years. If we have learned nothing else about leadership over the past few years, we have learned that no one can be all things to all people, nor can one person have all the competencies required for all aspects of their role as a leader. Even the very strengths required for our success have their “shadow side” that has the potential to derail us, or at minimum, to create problems for us. If it is not bad enough that our strengths have potential to create problems for us, consider what happens to us under stress. Our stress behaviors, which under ordinary circumstances, are hidden from view, jump off the page, and tend to surprise everyone, sometimes even us. Here are just a few examples of the “Shadow Side” of Leadership Strengths:

  1. Sensitivity to Others – valuable for effective listening, collaboration, gaining cooperation, and building teams. However, the shadow side is the tendency to avoid conflict, failing to confront problem performers, or sidestepping a change that may create resistance.
  2. Organized, structured and detail oriented – great for pulling a plan together and driving to action. The shadow side may be the tendency to be rigid, inflexible and to micromanage people.
  3. Smart, confident, self assured and competitive – great for leading others toward achieving a vision or goal. The shadow side could present as arrogance and intimidation.
  4. Valuing education, learning and keeping up with the latest trends in their industry or profession may present a shadow side that looks like arrogance and being a “know-it-all”.
  5. Solid, data driven, analytical problem solver may tend to show a shadow side as one who is cold and unconcerned about or unaware of the impact of their decisions on others.
  6. Friendly, gregarious, approachable, always making a positive first impression may show a negative tendency to wanting to be the center of attention, dominating social interactions, failing to listen, interrupting others, and overestimating one’s own importance.

We have all witnessed the tragedy of leaders whose strengths turned into their greatest weakness and eventually led to their derailment. The good news is that the latest trends in leadership development, especially with the addition of Assessments, 360s and Coaching, are providing leaders with the opportunity see themselves for who they really are, to see themselves as they are seen by others, to understand their personal patterns of responding to stress, and providing them with an opportunity to develop strategies that can keep them on the trajectory for achieving the vision they have set for themselves.

Your first step forward is to be open to the development process and to take advantage of every opportunity to develop your self- awareness, identifying your strengths and their shadow sides, as well as your tendencies under stress. With that insight you can develop a plan for maximizing your strengths, minimizing the impact of the shadow side of your strengths and begin to eliminate your unproductive stress behaviors.

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