Wisdom tells us that our greatest strengths can often also be our weakness. Strengths become weaknesses when we overplay them or rigidly work to them. Skilful leaders use the strengths of others to amplify their impact.
The tallest and strongest trees exist in a forest, gaining strength from being close to others. The most flexible trees exist near the coastline. The gain their strength from their flexibility and they grow and flourish with a distance between them to allow maximum flexibility. Both are playing to their strengths and the situation they find themselves in.
“When faced with a storm, a tree that doesn't bend becomes wood.” ~ Anon
In the HBR article Stop overdoing your strengths, Kaplan and Kaiser outline the costs of strengths overused. They explore the role of finding your balance, becoming conscious of when you are overusing your strengths and when to redirect your strengths.
I spend a significant amount of time with clients exploring, expanding and enhancing their strengths. Exploring these 5 themes helps them avoid the downside of their strengths.
1. Become aware of your own strengths and actively play to them
Although it may seem obvious, most people aren’t conscious of their strengths. They don’t have a language that they can use to name, claim and aim their strengths.
Gallup has created a simple and proven assessment which has been taken by 13 million people around the world. It creates an individual 18 page report and a plan outlining your strengths, with various options.
2. Be aware of others strengths
With a heightened awareness of your own strengths, you start to have a new way to look at the world. Through the language and lens of your strengths you start to notice similarities and contrasts with others. With this lens, we can quickly connect the dots about how other people prefer to work and their strengths.
In a lot of situations you can begin to form a perspective about people from reading their email, website or LinkedIn profile, before you meet or even speak with them. The way they use language is a clue about their strengths.
3. Be conscious of what the situation requires rather than what your strengths are
If you are in a room full of people focused on the details and the risks, the most valuable perspective you could bring is the opposite perspective. A leader brings to a meeting what is lacking rather than more of the same. In fact, bringing more detail to a room of detailed thinkers will be counter-productive, the meeting will take longer than it needs to if your only bring your strengths.
Bring flexibility and a higher perspective.
4. Create environments and forums where all strengths are represented
Set up the meeting for success before the meeting starts. Knowing who is in the room will help you understand which strengths are represented and which strengths are absent. If you are leading a meeting, most people think it’s the agenda that drives attendance. This is partially true, equally true is the nature of the decision that needs to be made at the meeting.
Look at your agenda and decisions required to be made in the context of people and strengths. Sometimes you can have the right people in the room yet you can have the wrong strengths to make a decision.
5. Understand the strengths of the system you are playing in
Ultimately all resources and decisions exist in a system. The system could be a team, a division, an organisation, an industry, a government, a country or beyond.
Being conscious of the strengths of the system you are in is like the difference between swimming with the tide or against the tide. One approach is aligned to the energy and flow of the system and the other isn’t.
Making a very fast decision in a highly regulated system is totally possible if you have all the right people lined up inside their systems. Most people only think about their system and the speed at which it operates rather than the other systems they need to interact.
Astute and productive people play to their strengths. Sustainable long term leaders play to the strengths of others.
*This post was originally published on Linkedin. One thing we've done recently is put together a list of the top business coaches in Sydney, and another list of the top business coaches in Melbourne. Let us know how you go with them - good luck!