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The strengths that will undo the very best of leaders: Overplaying the things you’re best at can end in disaster

30 September 2015

The strengths that will undo the very best of leaders: Overplaying the things you’re best at can end in disaster

City A.M published The strengths that will undo the very best of leaders: Overplaying the things you’re best at can end in disaster


Too much stress or not enough feedback can result in an excellent decisionmaker becoming dogmatic (Source: Getty)


It seems obvious that leaders must understand and play to their strengths – those qualities that energise them and enable them to do their best work – to effectively lead their teams to success. However, research shows that leaders often fail, not because they are weak in particular areas, but because they are using their strengths incorrectly and do not fully understand the situation they are in, or the people they are interacting with.


While most individuals spend the majority of their development time trying to improve weaker areas, these are rarely the biggest source of performance risk. Relying too much on particular strengths, or using them in the wrong way, can undermine peak performance and, in some cases, derail a leader’s career.




These “overdone strengths” refer to skills that are used in the wrong way, or at the wrong time. For example, it is vital that managers are energised when leading a group, but a leader in overdrive will appear domineering, and overly direct and opinionated. An individual’s desire to move people towards a common goal can override the need to consult with other team members, and this can ultimately negatively impact results.


The decisive natures common to those in leadership roles usually means that complex problems can be resolved quickly and efficiently. However, if decision-making is not applied with care, leaders can make snap judgements – such as simply bringing in the people closest to a given problem to assist them – without considering the bigger picture.


This will undermine decision quality, and damage trust between colleagues and other stakeholders. Think about Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and Gordon Brown – both leaders who were accused several times over of making this mistake.




Overdone strengths don’t just cause problems when leaders use their skills ineffectively. They also occur when leadership teams have dominant strengths that are used inappropriately, and negatively impact the company’s performance as a whole. If the leadership team is too strongly execution and results-focused, for instance, it is likely to sequester emotional intelligence and hinder trusting relationships with employees and customers. When this filters down to lower levels in the organisation, it can adversely impact the quality of customer experiences, and the firm’s ability to attract and retain high-quality talent.




There are a number of methods to help leaders understand how they can use their strengths more effectively, including:

  1. Building awareness of the overdrive risk and the triggers that can cause it, including factors such as stress, and perceived violation of a person’s values and long-established habits.
  2. Helping those who are in leadership roles to find specific actions to minimise how full-on they are in situations where they are prone to going into overdrive.
  3. Providing feedback and encouraging new habits to ensure behaviour change is sustained.
  4. Developing support networks between leaders with complementary strengths, who can provide each other with feedback on how to use strengths in more effective and powerful ways.


For leaders to achieve sustained high performance, they need to think beyond addressing weak areas. It is vital that leaders and managers learn to use their strengths with caution and care, ensuring that they are conscious of how they apply them.


The NHS training budget requires more than just a band-aid

Pharma Exec published The NHS training budget requires more than just a band-aid


The NHS has been widely criticized for being inefficient, cultivating an over-stretched and under-motivated workforce, and struggling to retain talented staff. Recent figures from the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA) show that more than 80% of senior hospital doctors are considering retiring early. The main cause is work-related stress, which can result in sleepless nights, anxiety, illness, marital breakups, and even strokes.


Meanwhile, the NHS is ploughing an increasing percentage of its budget into training new staff – with £5 billion being spent in the East and West Midlands alone. But new staff will be entering the same stressful work environment that is prompting existing staff to leave. Without drastic changes to workplace culture, the service is likely to see history repeat itself when new trainees become established members of the team.


So what changes can the NHS make to create a positive workforce, increase productivity, boost team morale, and ultimately improve staff retention rates?


Allow employees to express themselves


The nature of the NHS means many employees are naturally helpful and caring individuals. However, long hours and high workloads can lead even the most proactive employee to loose faith in their worth, negatively impacting motivation. Those who feel they are able to express their ideas, opinions and values are more likely to go the extra mile.


By allowing employees to fully express themselves – through the identification of their natural strengths, the introduction of strengths and awareness exercises, and by encouraging flexible working practices – the NHS can help employees reach their full potential, boosting morale and encouraging them to remain within the organisation.


Show employees appreciation


The vast majority of NHS staff feel under-appreciated by the government and NHS management, who are quick to point out problems, but rarely recognise the positives. It is important for NHS employees to feel appreciated by their management and co-workers for them to engage fully with their work.


Leaders need to be trained to spot employee’s successes as they happen, and praise individuals on their achievements at the time, rather than after the event. This will encourage staff to maintain high performance standards, keeping up positive momentum. The creation of low cost recognition schemes, such as hand-written thank you notes, will empower the NHS to boost staff appreciation on a budget.


Allow employees to make meaningful contributions


By allowing employees to make meaningful contributions to the workplace, the NHS can ensure they are committed to meet the goals and vision of the organisation. Staff members must have a clear idea of what is expected of them and how to achieve it.


Managers can improve staff motivation and build stronger team bonds by inviting employees to contribute to the community. Challenging employees with ‘stretch assignments’ agreed in collaboration with them will help to develop strengths and contribute to shared goals. When employees feel valued by their management and peers, staff will be more engaged in the success of their department and the organisation as a whole.


Feedback on employees’ performance


It is important employees receive regular, constructive feedback from valued co-workers, as well as key stakeholders and managers. This not only helps to develop key skills and teamwork, but also commitment and engagement within the team.


The NHS needs to employ a simple 360/multi-rater feedback process (either questionnaire or interview-based) that provides employees with regular feedback tailored specifically to the individual. The introduction of Peer Coaching Circles in which co-workers learn from each other and provide feedback will help teams work together productively and efficiently through identifying and taking ownership of solutions that will improve patient care, morale and results. Partnering employees with complementary strengths will ensure staff members feel supported, while minimising the risks that weaknesses can cause.


Create a sense of connection and social support


In high-pressure environments such as GP surgeries and hospitals, it is vital employees have access to strong support systems. Not only must networks provide practical and psychological support, they must also promote growth and friendship.


It is important employees have access to dedicated spaces for informal catch-ups and social activity, and are provided with opportunities to socialise outside of work hours. By bringing employees together in a relaxed environment, the NHS will improve team morale and provide vital support to employees working in highly stressful situations.


The NHS is a hugely important part of British society, providing vital support to those in need across the nation. It is imperative the NHS offers the same support to its employees to run a positive and productive workplace which empowers staff to provide the highest possible level of care. The NHS needs to rethink the ‘sticking plaster’ solution of training replacement staff and focus their training budget on teaching existing employees to identify and work to their strengths. By creating a positive and productive workplace in which talented staff enjoy their work, the NHS can thrive.