In General

You’re an achiever. You can put in long hours without burning out. You have a great ability to get started on new tasks and take on new challenges. You set new goals and levels of productivity for your group or work team. This has made you successful throughout your career. Keep doing what you’re doing because it’s all good, right? Wrong.

Our achievement drive applied in the wrong situations can cause us to be blind to the needs of others and drive our teams to exhaustion. Many of the strengths we have can also be sources of derailers in our career. Does this mean we abandon our strengths? How do we truly leverage our strengths and prevent them from becoming derailers?  The following are three leadership practices that I work with my executive coaching clients on that can help.

Fully Understand Your Strengths

I am a big fan of Strengthsfinder 2.0 and recommend it to all of my executive coaching clients. The first step to success in our careers is to fully own and understand our strengths and to look for opportunities to exercise these strengths in our work situations. Research indicates that our success comes from fully developing our strengths rather than focusing on our weak points. So take a moment to:

  • Write down your strengths. Take Strengthsfinder 2.0 or use performance reviews and other 360 feedback tools
  • As you work toward your goals proactively think about how you can apply strengths to drive success
  • As you develop your career, look for assignments or projects where your strengths will help you stand out
  • Further develop these strength areas

Understand The Derailer Potential in Each Strength

How we use our strengths is a moment by moment choice.  Most of us unconsciously apply our strengths in every situation.  For example, one of my strengths is “Activator.” I have a great bias for taking action in any situation. This is not so great when I need to create the space for others to lead and take action. I have to now consciously step back and hold off from taking action myself. This requires much greater awareness of each leadership situation I face.  It requires leadership to be a conscious act. This is especially true in leadership transitions when we face new roles or projects and they call for us to consciously adjust how we apply our strengths.

Another potential derailer is that our strengths become our standards for evaluating others. We devalue them when they don’t exhibit the same level of performance. For example, my “Activator” strength comes with a high sense of urgency in taking action and often I find myself expecting others to have that same sense of urgency.  If they don’t, it can cause me to write them off and I miss the strengths and contributions they do make.

So take a moment now to:

  • Understand the derailer potential in each of your strengths
  • Write down situations you face where this strength can become a derailer
  • Write down the impact on others and yourself when a strength is overly used
  • Write down situations where you expect others to have the same strengths and how this undermines teamwork

Develop Your Strengths Dial

As human beings we have tremendous potential to grow and develop. Neuroscience research shows that human brains remain elastic and we are constantly developing new brain pathways and synapses as we learn new behaviors.

In my work with my executive coaching clients I ask them to practice agility in their leadership by using a tool I call the “Strengths Dial”.  It’s the ability we have to dial up or dial down how we use our strengths based on context.  It makes us more well-rounded leaders with a much wider set of tools and leadership behaviors.   to understand the context within which we apply our strengths.

For example, I have an executive coaching client who has a high personal standard of excellence. This is what got her promoted to leading teams. She now has high standards for the work product of her team. This is a great strength until it causes her to not delegate even the small decisions to her team and start to micro-manage them. It also prevents the team from growing by learning from their mistakes.  It takes away any accountability the team feels as everything is double-checked.   She is using her “Strengths Dial” by practicing giving up the tight controls, allowing people more leeway to fail in certain circumstances so they can learn and accept accountability.

Take a moment to:

  • Write down situations where you want to turn your “Strengths Dial” down
  • Start practicing this new behavior, it will be uncomfortable at first, so give yourself a pat on the back for effort
  • Write down observations from the new behavior
  • Practice being conscious of what strength is required in each situation

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