Beware of Your Strengths

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gray elephant

You’re in a meeting with your team and you have a great idea. You share it with the group. Everyone loves your new idea. A little bit later in the meeting, you have another great idea. You share that one with the group and they like that one too. The meeting continues and you have yet another great idea and you share it with the group. They go along with this one as well, and you feel like you are on top of the world.

The meeting ends and you leave energized, excited, and ready to get to work on your new ideas!

But how does the rest of the team feel? Do they share your energy and excitement? Do they want to get to work on your new ideas? Or do they feel like they’ve just been run over by you and your strengths of creativity and imagination?

You may feel exhilarated about your strengths, but others may become exhausted or exasperated by your overuse of them.

You think you’re being an amazing contributor and helping the team…and you are when your strength of creativity is first applied. But after a couple more instances, you’ve overplayed your hand and others begin to feel overpowered and left out.

They may go along with it and applaud your innovations and energetic spirit, but somewhere a little deeper, they may feel like they don’t stack up or they aren’t making a meaningful contribution.

It may sound strange, but when we play our strengths too loudly, they can actually turn people off and become our weaknesses.

So how do we go about finding the right balance or the right volume for playing to our strengths? How do you know when to drive through with more strength and when to tap the brakes?

This can be a lot harder than you think, so you’re going to need some help from your friends and colleagues. You’re going to start with a 360.

Because before you can know when to slow your roll, you need to know what others find annoying, intimidating, and unproductive.

So here’s what you do. Ask your closest colleagues these three questions:

  1. What should I do more of?
  2. What should I do less of?
  3. What am I doing just right?

These questions help you get an outside perspective so you can see how others perceive your behavior. This is important because you probably have really good intentions for the way you act, but these intentions sometimes come with side effects.

Like in the previous example, where you intended to be a top contributor and speed the meeting along with all of your awesome, creative ideas. But, as we learned, the others in the meeting might have seen this as being overly aggressive, dismissive of others, and maybe just showing off.

You didn’t mean it that way, but somewhere in translation, it was perceived that way.

Simply stated, if you play your strengths too strongly or too often, even your greatest strengths can make you look bad.

So once you’ve asked, graciously accept the feedback from your coworkers and colleagues and ponder how to be more aware of your behaviors in similar situations.

All right, now we know what others think about the way we come across. But sometimes there are other things happening inside that others, and even we ourselves, are unaware of. Things that can be downright treacherous.

It’s time to go deep and look inside as we search the dark side.

When you’re ready, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. What less attractive qualities do I admire in a leader?
  2. Which of these do I overuse?
  3. What strengths am I privately proud of?

These questions can be hard to ask and really hard to answer. Don’t get down on yourself and don’t shy away from what you discover.

You may uncover qualities like overconfidence, narcissism, unflinching conviction, or skepticism. Or you might look a bit more closely at characteristics like diligence, boldness, or reservedness.

Often these strengths are rewarded in the workplace, but again, when overused, they can be detrimental and even destructive to relationships and desired results.

For example, people who are diligent are seen as hardworking and having high standards. But when these same people play to that strength too strongly or too often, they are seen as perfectionistic and micromanaging.

Similarly, people who are bold are typically seen as being assertive and filled with confidence. But too much boldness can easily be perceived as arrogance and self-importance.

With this paradox in mind, it’s important to accept your new understanding and embrace the evil twin within. You may not like them, and you may not appreciate them right now, but coming face to face with your darker qualities can help you better understand yourself and start to see what others might be experiencing when you flex these less desirable strengths.

Now that you have taken inventory of your strengths, it’s time to determine when to tone them down a bit, so you don’t get yourself into trouble when interacting with others at work and in life.

Probably the easiest way to see if you are misusing or overusing a strength is to look around the room and see how others are reacting.

When you speak, do others remain silent, do they resist, are they attentive? What else do you see as you assess the room?

If you can determine which strength you are overusing, great! If you’re having trouble figuring it out, don’t be afraid to ask.

Ask your colleagues what they are feeling, what’s missing, what they are needing right now. And then practice moderating and controlling the strength that is causing the misinterpretation or dysfunction.

Asking for feedback and then working on strength modulation won’t be easy. In fact, it’ll probably be pretty hard at first.

The good news is that you don’t have to call upon a perceived weakness of yours to save the day. You merely have to turn the volume down on the strength you are playing too loudly.

Bring your strength to a moderate level so everyone can enjoy your contribution, and not resort to holding their ears while you play it as loudly as you possibly can.

Sure, we all love playing to our strengths, and we should. It’s easy, it feels good, and it’s what got us where we are today. But using our strengths mindfully, moderately, and intelligently prepares us to be more effective leaders today and in the future.

So how will you learn to ask for feedback from others to see what they think about your leadership strengths? How will you turn inward to inspect the darker corners of your leadership traits? And how will you decide to take a step back and read the room when things get heated, slow down, or slide off the rails?

Remember, all strengths are meaningful and valuable. They exist to serve us and others and provide optimal outcomes. Just be sure to check in with yourself and with others to see if you’re playing your strengths at the right volume.  

Your Mindful Moment:

Your strengths are the instruments you play. Practice your skill with each of them and be sure to play at the right volume.

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