When Leadership Skills and Strengths become Weaknesses
Don’t Let Your Leadership Strengths become Weaknesses!
I believe that taking a strengths perspective is very important in my work with leaders. In fact, before working with people, I conduct a comprehensive assessment including the Strengthfinder and DISC personality/communication styles inventory.
These assessment tools help teams increase harmony, mutual respect, trust, communication, and cooperation while understanding their individual differences. These inventories can also help individuals make changes that improve their performance and their relationships.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Although many people think that one behavioral profile may be better than others, that simply isn’t true. All styles are necessary in a team/workplace, and each of them has strengths and weaknesses.
For instance, many of the leaders with whom I’ve worked have a strong “D” profile. To their credit, these “drivers” are bold, direct, confident, candid, assertive, competitive, productive, and independent, take-charge kind of people. Unfortunately, they often lack patience and have difficulty tolerating detail work. They can also be insensitive, impulsive, poor listeners.
One such leader, considered a very strong “D”, was burning people out all around him. If he wasn’t giving them ulcers, he was sending them to therapy!
Never reluctant to share his opinions, give unsolicited advice, and be blunt, he often alienated others. Being super goal-oriented, impatient, and decisive was great for the bottom line because he set and achieved many company goals. But, he seldom listened to others’ concerns or valued their opinions. And, this caused resentment.
Some people have Attention Deficit Disorder; I think this leader had Empathy Deficit Disorder!
Because he was so direct, people didn’t have to second-guess what he said. Those reluctant to share their opinions admired his candor. But, his bluntness was at times hurtful. Being factual, straightforward, and no-nonsense was often appreciated by his colleagues, especially if the ideas presented were lofty.
However, his over-use of these qualities gave him the reputation as a “know-it-all”. He demonstrated excellent self-control and self-discipline. But, being too controlled led to an image of cold indifference and unwillingness to pursue exciting new opportunities.
Being skeptical of quick fixes or hype, this leader did a great job of checking things out before making decisions or taking action. After all, due diligence is a critical leadership practice and prudence, an essential characteristic. However, taken to an extreme, it caused him to be overly suspicious and distrustful. And this too caused conflict and hindered organizational progress.
Anxiety and Animosity
Although challenging others may be considered a strength, this overbearing, overcritical leader relentlessly pressured employees to achieve more.
Since inferior work and half-hearted efforts frustrated him, he often set high goals for his direct reports. Although his tendency to compliment others inspired people to do their best, his unreasonably high expectations created anxiety and animosity, especially when coupled with his disregard for feelings.
Since he was never afraid to “shake things up”, he was admired by those afraid of change, conflict, or risk. Yet his reckless courage and eager ambition sometimes translated to careless impulsivity.
Even though, not taking “no” for an answer may be considered a strength when upholding expectations, this can become a weakness when done judgmentally.
For example, this particular leader brutally criticized those who didn’t meet his high standards. It was like taking a sledgehammer to a mosquito. When he controlled people and situations to force his own results, people saw him as belligerent.
This well-intentioned leader was great at holding others accountable and expecting employees to uphold quality standards to achieve desired results. He didn’t accept excuses. This is another great leadership trait. But, again, taking this trait to the extreme caused him to be overly demanding and dominating.
Rigidly perfectionistic, he had the tendency to overcommit others and underestimate the work needed to achieve goals. As you can imagine, the consequences included performance anxiety, dissent, and decreased productivity among his team.
My Way or the Highway
Being quick and decisive, he executed decisions with confidence and strength. He seldom allowed opposition to deter him from achieving organizational goals. Although this determination is often necessary when making important, urgent decisions or solving critical problems, such a strong-willed, uncompromising approach was perceived as careless, self-serving, and aggressive.
It was his way or the highway. He was right, no matter what.
In fact, he often used abrupt, combative phrases like, “I don’t care,” and “So what.” This often led to a condescending attitude which hurt his relationships.
So how do I approach this leader to emphasize the point that his strengths had become weaknesses?
How do you tell an executive who successfully climbed the ranks that he was self-sabotaging and destroying morale?
Well, for starters, I acknowledged his strengths and effective leadership traits. Then, I suggested that he merely needed to scale back on those strengths he had over-used. More specifically, I emphasized the need to increase his listening skills, empathy and patience while appreciating individual employees and recognizing their teamwork.
In my next article, I will outline what we came up with for his development plan and how he met those objectives.
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Barbara is an author, speaker, leadership coach, and founder of LeadershipU, a unique "inside-out", assessment-driven, feedback-rich, women's leadership development program incorporating experiential activities and peer coaching. Other posts by Barbara »