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Newsflash: Use Your Strengths in Perfect Balance

...and begin your magical effect on others.

The upside of strengths is that they serve us well most of the time. The downside is that they don’t serve us well at other times. I call this the yin and yang of personality.


Have you ever known someone who was talented but overconfident and arrogant? Or someone unusually socially skilled who manipulated others? Or someone who always has to be the center of attention? Or talented, creative people who come across as odd and unable to translate their ideas into language others understand?

The overusing or underusing of strengths plays out in interesting and sometimes surprising ways.

"We find it helpful for leaders to think of adjusting their strengths like a volume control [read more here]. The trick is to get the setting just right for the situation — from soft music for a quiet, intimate exchange, to a louder and lively level for a dance party. Knowing how much passion to put in a speech, how seriously to stress a concern, how long to let a discussion go on, how deep to get into the details, how fast to drive a change initiative — all of this requires a deft touch, equal parts knowing your own strength and knowing your audience."

- Robert B. Kaiser and Robert E. Kaplan, authors of "Fear Your Strengths"

Strengths help us get things done, drive business results, and make a difference in meaningful, positive and useful ways. Leaders need to understand their strengths because when they don’t, they overcompensate and fall into “overdoing it” or keep trying to get better at something they have already mastered. But overused or underused strengths can get in the way of critical goals and create havoc.

There are other reasons strengths have to be used in balance:

  1. Job context matters. Front-line supervisors need to be great at executing on the details and managing to instructions, processes, policies or procedures. However, as you take on higher levels of leadership such as senior manager or executive, other strengths become more important such as coalition building, leadership team building, and coordinating action across functions. What is a strength in one context isn’t a strength in all contexts. If you underuse your strengths, you may be underperforming and that is not the perception you want others to hold. If you overuse your strengths, you may undermine your effectiveness because of the impact on others.

  2. When it comes to leading people, your reputation is more important than your identity, in other words, how others see you vs. how you see yourself. We all have blind spots, and without feedback and insight from others, leaders can’t know their true impact. I have done hundreds of assessments with leaders over the years, and the most common trend I see is the tendency to rate themselves higher in areas than their direct reports, managers, or peers.

  3. The world grows in complexity in leaps and bounds; business challenges won’t wait while you settle into the comfort zone of what you have always been good at to address them. It is just as important to develop new strengths to tackle new situations as it is to build on existing ones.

Tips to Identify the Perfect Balance

There is no formula for knowing the perfect balance of each strength, because of the context issue described above. However, there are some simple things you can do to get insight into the use of your strengths to understand the balance you exhibit and what is required.

  • Ask for feedback. This can be formal, through assessments, observations and interviews, or informal through conversations, team meetings or individual requests. Ask questions like “Am I overdoing it?” “Am I doing too little of xxx?”

  • Develop what is required for the context. What do the organization and all of your stakeholders need from you across situations today? Your customers and suppliers? What do you need to dial up or dial down to succeed?

  • If you aspire to get promoted to the next level, talk to leaders in that position and find out what makes them successful. Then develop what is needed for that role. This is a leadership development strategy that you can put in place today.

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