Here’s a counter-intuitive idea:
When it comes to using our strengths, it’s sometimes better to ease up a bit.
Shouldn't we focus on our strengths, capitalize on their impact, and apply them every chance we can? Perhaps, except that when our strength-obsessed blaze of glory prompts others to wear sun glasses to shield themselves, our strengths are now in overuse, and they have become our weakness.
Take optimism, for example. The ability to see the bright side, even in the face of adversity, is a very useful skill. According to studies conducted by Dr. Martin Seligman, former president of the American Psychological Association and best selling author, optimistic people recover from illness faster, enjoy stronger relationships, and even live longer lives, than those who struggle with ‘reality based’ pessimism.
So, how can optimism be bad?
Well, consider the eternal optimist who is so upbeat that he only sees things as he wants them to be, not as they really are. We recently coached a project manager whose chronic optimism lead to unrealistic expectations for his staff, resulting in high stress, low morale, and poor performance. In his 360-degree feedback report, everyone agreed he was a great guy to be around, brimming with good cheer and optimism, but that he couldn’t be counted on to properly plan and deliver complex projects.
How about the very useful skill of analysis? Surely organizations want people who can logically assess a project and create a system of processes and procedures that ensure quality and minimize errors. But once again, these skills in overuse often lead to unfortunate consequences: analysis paralysis, poor prioritizing, and the inability to factor in the big picture vision that is often essential to motivating the troops.
As the Oracle at Delphi advised, “Everything in moderation.”
Taking Flight! Master the Four Behavioral Styles and Transform Your Relationships, Your Career…Your Life, we show how the ability to employ your strengths at a healthy, balanced level is critically important to our long-term success in whatever you choose to do.
The first step is to identify your core competencies. You may wish to ask your coworkers or manager, “What do I do that allows me to be an effective contributor to the organization?”
After establishing a core strengths list, identify what each skill looks like at its healthy and overuse levels. Next, determine which situations prompt a balanced strengths response, vs. conditions where you are likely to veer into excess mode. Once again, feedback from your peers and manager may be helpful. Finally, identify behaviors that need to be “toned down” so that strengths are used effectively.
As Benjamin Franklin said, “Wasted strengths are like sundials in the shade.” Consider the following behaviors that may need to be toned down and the accompanying strategies for improvement:
- Directness — Ask more questions, soften the tone of your words
- Reactive nature — Respond instead of react; think before you speak
- Conviction — The strength in which you convey your own ideas may cause others to believe that you are not open to their ideas
- Enthusiasm for ideas — Stay focused on the task, not just the idea of the task
- Desire to keep it positive — Be firm and direct in dealing with less favorable situations or inappropriate behavior of others
- Big-picture thinking — Provide details to others who need them
- Helpful nature — Assert your right to say 'no' when helping others interferes with your own productivity
- Seeking harmony — Recognize conflict as an opportunity for positive growth and change
- Overloading on responsibility — Delegate to others if your plate is full
- Dedication to work — Explore the benefits of play
- Desire for the 'right' answer — Develop a greater tolerance for constructive ambiguity, and human imperfection
- Rational nature — Recognize that others may react to situations from the heart, rather than from the head, and that neither is 'good' or 'bad'
Calibrating our strengths in response to the people around us not only brings out our best, but maximizes the potential of everyone’s growth. Master this art and you will become a magnet for talented people who grow smarter and more capable in your presence, which then delivers the best results for all.
Merrick Rosenberg and Daniel Silvert are co-authors of Taking Flight! Master the Four Behavioral Styles and Transform Your Relationships, Your Career…Your Life. Merrick is the President and cofounder of Team Builders Plus and Daniel is the VP of Learning and Development at Team Builders Plus.