Getting the best from your leadership strengths

Following on from a series of interesting articles that have attracted our attention in the past few months, including Kaplan and Keiser , Tony Schwartz and most recently Zenger and Folkman , we’d like to weigh in with our views on leadership strengths and how to get the best from them.

Fundamentally, we believe that a leader can achieve and sustain the highest levels of performance when they are able to effectively manage both their strengths and their performance risks.  For us, strengths are underlying qualities that energise us, contribute to our personal growth and which lead to peak performance.  When used wisely, they are our greatest source of success at work.  However, they can be overused, deployed in the wrong situation or at the wrong time and this can lead to unintended consequences, and not always positive ones.  We term this a source of performance risk and label it as a strength ‘in overdrive’.

We can all recall examples of colleagues, seniors or ourselves when we could feel the rush of energy and adrenalin associated with the use of a strength, perhaps Decisiveness, where we were able to quickly move through an impasse, Persuasiveness where others around us were won over to our point of view, or Results focus, where our drive to get a project to conclusion achieved the outcome on time, on budget and to the required standard.  However, we have found it to be a fine line between the judicious use of a strength to get the job done and a strength in overdrive, where there may be unintentional collateral damage.

For the leader whose Decisiveness is in overdrive, while they are experiencing the rush of forward momentum, others around them may feel they haven’t been heard, or potentially valuable options to resolve an issue or select a new strategic direction may not have been considered.  While the leader feels good that they can cut through the talk and pick up the pace once again, if they are unaware that they may be in overdrive, negative consequences may occur downstream – they may be blindsided by a competitor who has spent longer in the planning phase before moving ahead, or they may be deserted by colleagues who felt that their views hadn’t been shown the proper respect around the meeting table.

So what to do about strengths in overdrive?

Option 1: gather feedback from others on what they experience of the strengths that you bring to your leadership role – do they feel that you are using your strengths with intelligence and consideration?  Would they prefer to see you using your strengths more than currently? Or less?

Option 2: as Zenger and Folkman have advised in their latest HBR blog, use strengths in combination to avoid overdrive, developing lesser used strengths (or drawing on those of others) as a balance to strengths which have a tendency to go too far.  For example, to avoid Decisiveness becoming an overwhelming, overbearing force, draw on Strategic-mindedness to keep the bigger picture in mind or Efficiency, to follow a pre-planned decision-making process.

Both of these options to mitigate strengths going into overdrive require the leader to have an adequate understanding of what drives them, energises them and motivates their behaviour in the first place, so that they can make deliberate choices about alternative behavioural strategies.  We have developed our Strengthscope™ profiling suite with that exact purpose in mind – to give people a language to describe their strengths at work, to bring clarity on which strengths may at times go into overdrive, and to help people make choices about which strengths to use in combination and when, based in part on their self-reported view and in part on the feedback from others, using our 360 degree feedback tool.

If you are interested to know more, please visit our website:  The sooner you gain an awareness of your leadership strengths, the sooner you can start getting the best from them without having them getting the best of you.

Dr. Paul Brewerton