The downside to playing to your strengths

Posted June 3, 2014 in Latest News & Insights

In 1999, I heard Marcus Buckingham first talk about the work that he and colleague Curt Coffman had done in their seminal book First Break All the Rules on the benefits of a strengths-based management approach.  Since then Buckingham has gone on to be the self-styled guru of the strengths-based movement.  The pitch goes: work with your strengths and you’ll be happier, more productive and more successful.  As more and more individuals turn their focus to their strengths, it’s worth noting that, you can have too much of a good thing.

One of the things I love about working at The Executive Roundtable is that we get to work with the best and brightest leaders across a variety of organizations.  The people we work with generally are quick learners, highly coachable and great at what they do.  What I’ve also noticed is that, when we sit together to develop action plans, there is always a consistent theme in their “areas for improvement” and it is this:

Their areas are rarely “weaknesses” or gaps.  Rather, they tend to be the darkside of their strengths.  Strengths that are overused become liabilities.  Here are a few examples of where a positive becomes a negative:

  • Big picture thinker = Unrealistic around execution
  • Confident = Self-centered
  • Trendsetter = Reactionary
  • Persuasive = Talks too much
  • Friendly = Causes distractions
  • Prudent = Misses opportunities
  • Passionate = Overly emotional
  • Flexible = Disorganized
  • Hands-on = Micro-manager
  • Delegates = Abdicates
  • Sets clear expectations = Demanding
  • Decisive = Impatient
  • Takes accountability = Creates dependency
  • Competitive = Overbearing
  • Sets high standards = Perfectionistic
  • Consensual = Indecisive
  • Empathetic = Biased
  • Creates harmony = Doesn’t push performance

Again, any strength overused will become a liability. Pay attention to what people tell you that you’re great at and make sure it’s not causing negative ripples in other areas of your leadership world. As leaders, we need to be equipped to use a cadre of leadership tools (skills and behaviours) that we flex depending on what is required in the situation. Sometimes your strengths aren’t going to help you get done what you need to get done.  If you’d like to see if you’re overusing any of your strengths, check out Marshall Goldsmith’s great book “What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There” or talk to us about how we might help.

Happy leading!


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