We’ve all heard the advice to “Play to your strengths.” In their new book Fear Your Strengths: What You Are Best at Could Be Your Biggest Problem
, leadership experts Robert Kaplan and Robert Kaiser challenge current thinking and warn readers of a glaring oversight in the field of leadership development-namely the lack of attention paid to the danger of leaders taking their strengths too far.
Most leaders, they’ve found, are “lopsided”: they favor certain qualities to the exclusion of others without realizing it. Here, Kaplan and Kaiser present four common scenarios where leaders overplay one leadership strength to the exclusion of another:
1. Strength: Powerful Influencer; Weakness: Ineffective Enabler
Example: A leader who is so adept at influencing others others that it is a daunting task for others to contend with him. Forceful leadership-a good thing when used in correct proportion-can render leaders unable to elicit, nurture, and benefit from other input in the organization if their team seeks to agree with them rather than bring their best thinking.
2.Strength: Skilled Empowerer;
Weakness: Poor Enforcer
Example: The quintessential “team player” who is a great listener and excels at making decisions by consensus can do such a good job at giving other people a voice that his or her own voice gets lost. An over-emphasis enabling others and being respectful can degenerate into ineffectual niceness and a tolerance for situations that aren’t working.
3. Strength: Strategic Mind; Weakness:
Weak on Operations
Example: A visionary leader highly regarded for strategic brilliance who can dazzle others with big, bold moves but lacks experience with operations (or worse, downplays its importance). A leader who overplays strategic leadership often ignores a chorus of voices urging him to pay more attention to operational detail, in effect, setting a direction without the executional ability to drive results.
4. Strength: Process Thinker;
Weakness: Restricts New Thinking
Example: A manager whose trademark style is practical, disciplined, and organized has a superior ability to get “under the hood.” However, his running of the day-to-day is so tightly structured that he has a tendency to to cut off discussion of new ideas. A disciplined focus on process details without a broader view inside and outside of the organization can morph into a pre-occupation with short-term thinking.