Photo Credit: Joshua Jordan, Unsplash.com

Through my years of studying human behavior and leadership, one thing I’ve come to realize is how closely connected strengths and weaknesses are. Many times, we think of it in terms of increasing our strengths and doing our best to minimize (or delegate) our weaknesses. However, this approach to development can be a little too black and white. One of the most interesting phenomena, in my opinion, is when a strength actually becomes a weakness.

Research from Kaiser Leadership Solutions and Kaplan DeVries Inc. has indicated that “leaders are five times more likely to overdo behaviors related to their areas of natural talent than areas in which they were less gifted.” When this happens, it can be incredibly difficult to spot because we’re so used to seeing the particular attribute in a positive light, and perhaps is the reason we were able to make it to the top in the first place.

How a Strength Can Become a Weakness

So how, exactly, does a strength become a weakness? There are a few ways that it can happen, and the fact that most of the time it’s a relatively gradual process can make it pretty difficult to notice. For the purposes of this post, we’ll shine a light on the strength of ‘assertiveness’ in a person who has used it to become a top-notch salesperson.

You Overdo It 

If you’ve typically found that your gift for assertiveness has helped you get ahead, make the sale, and rise to the top of your company, you can easily take it just a little too far (or waaaayyyy too far). After all, if some assertiveness is a good thing, shouldn’t a lot of assertiveness be even better?! Well, no. Some assertiveness is positive, while a lot of assertiveness takes on an air of bullying and aggression.

You Ignore Other Strengths in Favor of It 

If your gift for assertiveness has always gotten the job done, it can be very easy to forget about all those other lovely strengths you possess and that have served you throughout your life. Instead of falling back on your humor or your ability to see both sides of a situation, you start to put all your eggs into the ‘assertive’ basket, thinking this is your best bet to get what you want. Not only will your other strengths likely weaken with disuse, but you’ll also find that just one strength can’t save you in every situation.

You Rely Too Much On It

When you start relying on just one strength, you tend to inflate its importance and think it can solve all your problems. It becomes your go-to for every obstacle.

You can’t get that special rate on insurance so you become more assertive with the representative. You can’t get your daughter to respect the curfew you set, so you get more aggressive in punishing her. Your co-workers don’t get your point of view on a client, so you just continue to stick to your guns and defend it more vehemently. You see where I’m going here? When you rely too much on one strength, you have a much tougher time letting go of it when the situation does not call for it.

So, What Now?

If you suspect that you may have a strength that’s becoming dangerously close to a weakness, there are some things you can do to pull yourself back from the brink. Try one of the following:

Discover Your Overused Strength 

The fact is that we all have ‘ways of being’ that are more comfortable for us and that we like to default to. And because the strength may have served us so well in the past, we may not be aware that we are now leaning too heavily on it. This is where feedback can be your best friend.

Simply asking co-workers or others in your life where you overdo it can provide you with some valuable insight. Or you could go a step further and conduct a brief “more, less, continue” survey: What would you like to see me doing more of, what would you like to see me doing less of, and what would you like to see me continue doing? Be prepared that you sometimes may not like what you hear, but if you want to be a better leader, you can’t do that by hiding from the uncomfortable.

Increase Your Self-Awareness 

What are your default tendencies when faced with resistance or opposition? Knowing this can help you start to notice when you’re headed to your old go-to, and allows you the opportunity to stop and consider whether this particular strength is the most appropriate for this situation.

The point here is that you have an arsenal of strengths available to you, and even some lesser strengths that you could flex and grow. You don’t have to throw out a strength just because you may have relied on it a few too many times. You can still apply that strength–you just don’t have to ALWAYS apply it. Practice using other strengths when the situation calls for it and pay attention to your results. In time you’ll become more adept at identifying which strength each situation needs you to bring forth.

As Alexandre Dumas said,

“Any virtue carried to an extreme can become a crime.”

Our strengths are no different. Becoming aware of the tipping point when your greatest strengths cease to be an asset and start to become an obstacle is key to making sure that what got you to the top doesn’t become the very thing that sends you tumbling back down.

Trish Cody’s an Executive Awareness Coach and Speaker who focuses on optimizing results for business leaders. With over 20 years of experience as a strategic consultant for some of the world’s top Fortune 500 companies, Trish Cody has coached and consulted with senior level teams in planning, designing, launching, and measuring the return for major initiatives. As a Certified Professional Coach and Energy Leadership Practitioner, Trish works with senior level leaders and business owners to raise their levels of self-awareness and create more trust, loyalty and success in their businesses and teams. Contact Trish at [email protected].

Photo Credit: Joshua Jordan, Unsplash.com