Taming a Strength That’s Become a Weakness

Darryl has a hard time seeing the new year as a blank slate opportunity for tackling issues at work.

His employer went through substantial changes during the year—new ownership, new management team, new way of leading—and now wants leaders who are multi-dimensional. Because Darryl’s performance isn’t in line with their expectations, his boss told him future promotions were unlikely as long as he remained too competitive, too logical, too judgmental, too focused on results and tradition.

To Darryl, his year-end performance review was a disaster. His takeaway? To start looking for a job. Darryl needs a nudge back from his doom-and-gloom assessment to see the possibility in what his boss told him.

His boss used the word too in describing Darryl’s performance. The boss hadn’t said those attributes weren’t the right things to be, just that Darryl was too much of them. Darryl had over-used his strengths and turned them into weaknesses.

Darryl’s blank-slate opportunity is to dial back his overused strengths and take a more balanced approach to leading.

Let’s explore a few things he can do to be the thoughtful, multi-dimensional leader his employer needs.

Compete externally and collaborate internally.

Darryl likes to win. In his zeal to be first or best, he forgets that colleagues and employees are on the same team and often treats them like adversaries. Darryl can channel his competitiveness by learning to work with, not against, his co-workers and team so together they all can compete externally.

Use curiosity to temper judgmental tendencies.

In these right-versus-wrong-hurry-up-and-get-things-done days, curiosity has fallen into disuse. Sameness is comfortable and quick, which causes leaders to miss the power and magic in differences of thought, opinion, perspective, and experience.

As many managers do, Darryl relies heavily on experience to quickly make decisions and formulate strategies. He can learn to get comfortable with the concept that experience shares common ground with travel—there are usually many routes to a destination. Simply because someone elects an alternate route doesn’t mean they, or their route, are wrong.

To be less judgmental, Darryl can choose to understand (and learn) by asking questions before acting. Curiosity is a handy tool for expanding comfort zones, controlling bias, and building collaboration (something that can help with being too competitive—others' input can meld with what he knows for win/win outcomes).

Think in terms of improving both economics and engagement.

Darryl is a numbers guy. Nothing wrong with that. Where Darryl goes wrong, though, is in forgetting that it’s people who make results happen. Without strong connections that make people feel valued and recognized, workplaces have unhappy employees and lackluster performance. However, when bosses choose to build authentic, caring connections and value both money and meaning, results and relationships, employees are engaged, performance is strong, and everyone wins.

Maintain the best of the old while embracing innovation.

Aware of Darryl’s strong preference for what has always been, his boss encouraged him to envision a tree when faced with something that triggers skepticism and resistance. A tree has roots to give it stability and help it stand strong. But the tree grows and takes in the sun because of new branches and leaves. A tree that fails to grow new branches will be stunted and may become root-bound and die. New growth rooted in tradition is what makes all of us grow and be better. Darryl can learn how to take in the new, while holding onto traditions and values.

Lead with both a logical mind and an emotional heart.

Darryl frequently uses the line, “just give me the facts.” Facts, data, and logic are good; but they’re not always enough to persuade people to act. That takes emotion. Darryl’s boss suggested he lead with his heart and manage with his head, to better connect with those around him. Darryl can learn to make kindness, compassion, and respect part of his routine leadership, just as he does with logic, competition, and focusing on the bottom line.

The seat of knowledge is in the head, of wisdom, in the heart.
~William Hazlitt, philosopher and essayist

Over-reliance on a strength isn’t uncommon. Who doesn’t want to showcase what they do well? The tricky part of being an effective leader is getting past the blind spot created when strength has turned into weakness. Darryl is fortunate that his employer and boss are willing to coach him in finding a “Goldilocks’ just right” balance.

To receive a better performance review next time (and maybe a promotion), Darryl doesn’t have to learn a new skill—all he needs to do is refine and recalibrate the skills he already has.

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