When Strength Becomes Weakness

We have strengths and we have weaknesses; it’s what makes us human. To ascend, we believe the objective is to eliminate our deficiencies while promoting our better qualities. Let me prick that bubble of delusion: often it’s our strengths that become our undoing.

The examples abound. An ability to grasp complex concepts more quickly than most can lead us to be overly impatient or aggressive with those who seem incapable of comprehending our ideas. A highly supportive boss can cut people far too much slack. A relentless focus on results can lead to micro-managing others. A forceful, dynamic personality can unknowingly overwhelm and intimidate the very people we care about.

Espousing your principles too frequently or too forcefully, however well intentioned, can lead others to view you as judgmental and intolerant. Trying to engage the majority in an effort at collaboration or consensus can slow down decision making and diminish the spark that drives high performers.

Overconfidence can nurture arrogance and complacency. A mastery of strategic planning may be undermined by an inability to follow through or a failure to execute. Self-control can easily turn into rigidity. Courage in the extreme can become recklessness. And honesty, when untempered, can turn into cruelty.

We tend to overuse our strengths when we’re not getting what we want. This behavioural lopsidedness – doubling down on what worked so well in the past – limits our effectiveness. Beyond identifying this imbalance in how we deal with others, we need to go further in addressing its inherent counter productiveness.

We must recognize and come to terms with the assumptions, motives and insecurities that prompt these too often misguided behaviours. We need to give greater attention to the social skills required to “restore the balance” in the characteristics by which others define us. We must learn how to be right without coming across as righteous and how to be decisive without shutting down robust debate.

The challenge we all face is the inordinate difficulty of seeing, much less assessing, this behavioural overkill in ourselves. Think about your unique characteristic strengths for a moment – those attributes that define you, serve your purpose and are admired by others. Try to recall occasions when they may have been “over the top,” where they unintentionally caused more harm than good, or where they led to the opposite of what you intended.

The most effective way to hold up the mirror to these overused strengths is to ask for feedback from those affected by our behaviours. We must genuinely encourage them to tell us what it is we overdo.

Our questions should be brief but honest: What should I do more? What should I do less? How can I get better? Above all, ask them to not sugarcoat their answers – most will because they don’t want to hurt or embarrass us. Which simply means, by not knowing how to ask for honest, direct, unvarnished feedback, we become the architects of our misfortune,

Another approach to finding “the right balance” is to list those qualities you’d like to possess. Try not to mislead yourself by thinking euphemistically of the attributes you’d like to have. Without a realistic assessment of our strengths and weaknesses, we deceive ourselves and, in so doing, plant the seeds of angst and frustration. Reflect on whether you are overdoing any of your unique, dominant strengths in pursuit of your personal or professional agenda.

Never forget the importance of perspective. Good guys don’t always win and the meek did not inherit the earth. We can’t be all things to all people and precious few would ever be considered “fully balanced.” The literature says only about 5% of leaders today have achieved that level of excellence when it comes to reconciling the qualities that engender success. It’s never about achieving perfection anyway; it’s always about moving forward.

The objective is to find the balance that works best for you. In doing so, ask yourself “what’s more important?” For example, are results more important than relationships or is it the other way around? To achieve balance in strengths such as these, perhaps results-oriented people need to become more reflective and soften up a bit … while relationship-oriented individuals might consider the merits of toughening up.

The goal of life is not to find perfection. That is impossible. Rather, the purpose of this self-analysis is to build complementary strengths that can enable you to move, gracefully but effectively, toward the spectrum of behaviours that will create the identity to want to project. Understanding when and how our strengths have become weaknesses in our interpersonal affairs makes us more relatable and capable of achieving the outcomes we desire.