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When do leadership strengths become weaknesses?

Terry Frost, Lizard Black, Flowers Gallery

Leadership strengths are discussed by Robert E. Kaplan and Robert B. Kaiser in Harvard Business Review. However, contrary to the traditional advice that managers should concentrate on their strengths, the authors warn that you can take strengths too far – to the point, in fact, where they become weaknesses.

For instance, take the leadership strengths of forcefulness (driving the team hard). If you are extremely forceful, the productivity within your team might improve in the short term but morale could suffer, proving detrimental to productivity in the long term.

Now take the leadership strength of consensus-building (obtaining agreement from everybody on decisions). Concentrating too much on consensus-building could improve morale but productivity could suffer, with the decision-making process taking too long – this could be detrimental to morale in the long term.

To strike a balance, Kaplan and Kaiser suggest seeking evidence that your strengths are being overused – very high ratings on a 360-degree feedback, for instance – and then seek to redirect them. You can ask co-workers what they think you should do more, what you should do less and what should continue unchanged.

The authors also recommend asking yourself, “Do I privately pride myself on being superior to other leaders in any way?” If this is the case, this could be precisely the attribute you’re at risk of overdoing.

Once you have identified the strengths you are overplaying, you can redress the balance by doing more of the opposite. The HBR article offers the example of a manager whose preference for consensus-building resulted in overly long meetings, much to the chagrin of her team. To counter this, an 80% majority consensus was accepted instead of 100% and meetings became much more productive.

Stop Overdoing Your Strengths
Robert E. Kaplan and Robert B. Kaiser
Harvard Business Review