Have you come across the term ‘strength in overdrive’? Well it’s a phrase that we use a lot at Strengthscope – what it means is when you’re using something that is usually a positive quality for you, one that gives you energy and that you are good at using or at least have that potential, but in certain circumstances, that strength can go just that little bit too far, so it tips into ‘overdrive’ territory, leading to unexpected consequences either for you or the people around you.
The thing with overdrive is that it feels good to us to be using a strength – normal, natural, enjoyable and it gives us a rush of energy – but what can you do to avoid that energy rush becoming an energy monster, rampaging through its surroundings tearing stuff up? On this podcast, I want to give you some tips on how to spot a strength in overdrive and how to tame that energy so that you can use it positively and productively.
I’ll start by saying that I have a few strengths that I know are prone to going into overdrive which I’m going to use as examples. These are from the strengths model that underpins our strengths assessment platform Strengthscope but there are other flavours of strengths assessment out there, so take a look. The point is to know your strengths and what they can look like at their best, when you’re making a strong contribution at work in particular, but also get familiar with what can happen when those strengths tip too far – when they go into overdrive.
So looking at my Strengthscope report, I can get a good sense of my overdrive risks. Let’s start with Collaboration. I know that at my best, my Collaboration strength can get people to work towards a common goal, to seek to work as a collective rather that individualistically and to get a better understanding of each other. So that’s my collaboration at its best.
But reading from my Strengthscope report, I can also see overdrive risks described: let’s see which of these applies to me:
1. If you seek out collaboration where this unnecessary or on inappropriate…well I think I’ve got better at this through the years and only pick collaborations that I can spend time on or do justice to.
2. If you seek consensus on every decision even when a quick decision is required…I do often want everyone to agree on things and it pains me when someone doesn’t but I’ve learned to use my Decisiveness (rather than Persuasiveness) to move things forward when there isn’t agreement, after having listened to all points of view.
3. If you overlook the value of your own input…YES YES YES YES this absolutely me, I definitely do this! So I’m often told that my perspective is really valued but I need to remember to share it more rather than always trying to get others to discuss and agree. I’m very other-centred and not very me-centred, so that explains some of it, but it is definitely a risk if not addressed.
So I look at these risk areas and I think the first one I’ve pretty much nailed. I’ve done that by bringing in another of my strengths, Strategic Mindedness, along with Empathy, to counter that urge to just start a collaboration and see where it takes me. That’s because I know that I need to be realistic with my time and where I can spend it and also these days I spend more time thinking about how starting something up and then not following through will feel for the other person.
The second risk, seeking consensus – I’ve learned when to dial back on Persuasiveness, which I sometimes overuse in order to get everyone to agree ( or at least appear to agree, but actually they may not really agree, I may just be overpersuading to the point where they give up trying to voice their view), and instead I’ll pick Decisiveness to move us forward and accept that not everyone is going to agree on everything always. The third risk – undervaluing my input – that is 100% still a risk for me; I am so happy when others in my team come to conclusions/solutions without needing my input but forget that I do need to own and voice my own view so that others feel that I am engaged and care.
So what does this all tell us: Well, I have a Collaboration strength that has some major upsides and I love to use it. I also have risks attached to my Collaboration when the energy takes on monster-like qualities and goes into overdrive. I have learned to manage some of these risks and have strategies to address them and for other risks, I am still learning how to deal effectively with them. So from that example, here’s my top 3 tips for taming the energy monster:
1. Use another strength to drown out and tame the monster strength – I mentioned I do this with Decisiveness if I get too into consensus-seeking and also Strategic mindedness and Empathy if I am tempted to kick off new collaborative venture without really having the time for it. The advantage of choosing to use another strength to help is that I have energy for that too and can easily get to it when I’m at overdrive risk, as I’m already in a strengths-excited state. I just need to remember to do it. And to remember that, it’s best that I plan that option in when thinking about upcoming situations where my strengths may go into overdrive so that I have the alternative strength strategy top of mind.
I used to advise people to dial strengths down but actually that’s really hard to do and can just lead to the strength getting switched off, which then gets an odd response from people as it can make you seem a bit unlike yourself. Using another strength to counter and tame the energy monster is more real and practical. Picking the right one is important too – ideally it will be one that can provide an antidote to the energy monster situation and not just fuel it.
So I wouldn’t use Persuasiveness if my Enthusiasm isn’t convincing people of the value of an approach, because people are probably just going to feel I’ve upped my level of persuasion. Instead, I could go to another strengths, Empathy, pause and think about what they’re hearing and check in to see that my idea is landing as I intended. So strategy 1 is draw on another strength to counter the overdrive.
2. In situations where I undervalue my input, and therefore ‘overcollaborate’, I mentioned this is an ongoing challenge for me. What I’m trying to do more of is remind myself to always give an opinion even if it’s entirely supportive of other people’s views, just so it’s heard. So this involves me learning a new behaviour to avoid me getting lost in the energy of the group that’s collaborating. Strategy 2 then is to learn and habituate new behaviours which will ensure the overdrive risk stays in check.
3. For the third strategy, I want to explain another overdrive risk I’m aware of in myself – Critical thinking…that is being energised by critiquing and looking for flaws in ideas or thinking. I also have Strategic mindedness – I enjoy thinking about future possibilities, making connections between ideas and seeing how the whole fits together.
I’ve noticed that when I’m tired in particular (that’s my overdrive trigger in this case), I know that I can get a bit fixated on things that I haven’t (or maybe can’t) find a solution for and then start to connect that with other things, which if I’m not careful, can spiral me into a negative, self-critical mood, which probably doesn’t have a lot of basis for reality.
So I know that I need to acknowledge these critical thoughts and feelings but not necessarily let them go too far with that strengths combo of Critical thinking and Strategic mindedness. The best strategy I’ve found for this is just to get my head out of that space by thinking about, or doing, something completely different. If I can’t resolve the thing now, I stop banging my head against a wall and move onto something more rewarding and less negative. So that’s strategy 3 – just stop the energy monster in its tracks by not giving it airtime or space to get too big. Contain it by doing or thinking about something else entirely and then coming back to the challenge later.
So there we are: how to tame the energy monster. Know the strength or strengths you have that can sometimes grow too big. Know your triggers – what causes the monster to come out. And then develop some strategies to deal with the energy monster from the 3 options I’ve suggested, at least as a start. Till next time, get taming that energy.