Derailing Success by Overemphasizing Your Leaders’ Strengths

Identifying and using a leader’s strengths can yield successful outcomes for individuals and organizations. Research shows that strengths-based approaches to performance management and coaching lead to higher engagement and higher performance.

However, overemphasizing strengths can be a detriment to a leader’s role and accountability, and negatively impact the bottom line. It derails success when it’s used to excuse behaviors that foster annoyance among teams and hinder productivity.

When I listened to executive coaching expert Marshall Goldsmith talk about this derailer, it reminded me of an experience I had earlier in my career.

I once worked with a very talented senior leader and executive consultant. “Scott” was one of the brightest people in the business consulting industry and a huge advocate for strengths management. He captivated audiences with stories that helped clients understand complex subjects and ultimately shift behaviors. When Scott was in front of clients, he delivered great value for them.

On his own, however, Scott was disorganized, tardy, and sometimes negligent with his commitments. He was often late for client calls and meetings and even missed flights. His lack of punctuality became a huge drag on our company.

When we confronted Scott, he replied, “Being on time isn’t me. Being organized isn’t me. I don’t have strengths in those areas and never will.” He expected the organization to cover for him or offer more administrative support to help him. We did, but providing additional resources didn’t fix the fundamental problem. His attitude was set: he would never be organized or on time.

Ultimately, Scott’s behavior caused significant harm to our relationships with clients.

It wasn’t until we got him to accept that being organized and on time was an absolute expectation, and taught him to use a variety of time management tools, that he regained his value to our clients.

Don’t get me wrong: leaders should know their strengths and use them in the workplace. However, failure to identify and address their weaknesses can place a huge burden on employees and teams. Ignoring feedback about areas that leaders don’t consider their strengths, or developing the mind-set that they can never be good at something, can be dispiriting and disengaging to their teams.

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