Keeping Your Strengths From Becoming Weaknesses

As a practitioner and coach for many executives, I believe that an overdependence on strengths is preventing many people from becoming better leaders, particularly in a time when organizations are faced with unprecedented challenges that may need unique solutions.

When times are easy going, people tend to try something new, but difficult times don’t encourage venturing into the unknown. Engineers often display strong analytical and problem solving skills, which can over shadow their soft skills. If you’re under the gun and you know there’s a way that you can get something done, you’re going to revert to where you feel the most comfortable or the area where you know you are the strongest. For people that are technically gifted, they typically become very analytical and very tactical in how they approach things.

I sometimes use tennis to describe how individuals can fall back on their strengths. Most tennis players have a much stronger forehand than backhand. If the ball is coming over the net, a player is more likely to run to a spot where he can use a forehand stroke. But as a result, they pass up the opportunity to hit with a backhand or develop something that might become better. It’s like approaching an issue from the same perspective or framework every time.

Strength preferences are often revealed when dealing with people and conflicts. Good leadership requires the ability to effectively deal with conflicts and negotiate resolutions. I think that these situations show whether someone is stronger in developing relationships or obtaining results. In tough situations, some people are more interested in preserving a relationship rather than focusing on the outcome. Likewise, some people are so results-oriented that they don’t care who they step on in order to get results. Neither is right or wrong. But you need to understand which area is more important.

The first step to overcoming your strengths and improving your development is to become self-aware. Several tools can help. The simplest tool is to seek feedback and listen well. An effective leader is always seeking feedback. It’s not that they are always going to try to make people happy, but they need to seek to understand how others view what they are doing.

Tools such as a Myers-Briggs personality test or a 360-degree assessment can also be useful. "All of those tools can help people get a lot of perspective on how they are perceived by others because at the end of the day, the success or failure of a leader is based on the perception of people around him," he says.

I believe that individuals who are invited to provide feedback shouldn’t simply tell someone that they are being difficult in certain situations. I recommend the use of the "Situation Behavior Impact" technique or SBI. With SBI, the person seeking feedback is provided details on the behavior that was witnessed and the impact that it has on people who experienced the behavior. If the review is put in the SBI framework, it’s going to be much more useful than simply saying that someone has a bad attitude.

The use of a coach can also help someone to test out new ways of approaching situations. A lot of times people will say, ‘Why would I ever need a coach?’" A coach can help a leader, particularly a senior-level leader, understand how to take all of this feedback and figure out how it all relates to specific events that may have blown up in his or her face in the past.

I believe that individuals who want to become better leaders always try to improve and are not afraid of changing their behavior if it will benefit the entire organization. Great leaders recognize that even though they may be good at doing something one way, there’s nothing wrong with changing your approach.

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