Ahhh, September! Depending upon where you are, this month may mean dropping temperatures and leaves turning various shades of red and orange. For others, it marks the advent of spring, flowers blooming, and the anticipation of warmer weather.
Here in Singapore, no matter the date on the calendar, we are so close to the equator that the temperature is always about the same. (In fact, I read somewhere that one of the most boring jobs in the world is to be a weather forecaster in Singapore. That makes sense!)
Personally, I love the year-round warm weather. No need for cumbersome coats or boots, no pain of chapped lips or falling on slippery sidewalks. But I admit that living in warm-weather climates for the past 16 years has definitely made me a bit of a “wimp” when it comes to traveling to countries in the wintertime.
This lack of adaptability has an analogy when it comes to self- and career-management, too. There comes a time when you need to ask yourself: Am I getting too complacent with one particular leadership style? Am I too comfortable with my most-used means of communication? Do I depend too much on one or two “signature strengths” on the job?
Given the fast pace of today’s changing world, there are dangers in becoming “stuck” in day-to-day work patterns. So, how do you know if you need to become more adaptable? Well, that’s what this blog post is all about!
Have Your Strengths Become Weaknesses?
As an Executive Coach, people often ask me: “What should I focus on most… building up my strengths, or working on improving my weaknesses?” Based on my years of experience, I had my own thoughts and opinions on this topic, but first, I wanted to get an understanding of what research tells us. So, I went in search of the answer.
The clearest research I found follows…
How Strengths and Weaknesses Impact Your Executive Leadership Brand
A study of 6,000 leaders focused on whether people possessed strengths or weaknesses and how that impacted each individual.
The first group consisted of leaders who had one or more serious weaknesses or fatal flaws. They were seen to be performing at the 18th percentile in the eyes of their peers, direct reports, and bosses. This was true even if they had many strengths. It only took one serious fault to put them at the bottom.
The second group consisted of leaders who had neither strengths nor weaknesses. (This seems to be true in general of about one-third of leaders.) They performed in the middle of the curve at the 50th percentile.
The third group of leaders had one or more prominent and clear strengths, and they were seen as performing at the 81st percentile.
What does this tell us? If you have a clear strength, don’t abandon it! It will help you stick out for sure. The key is not to rely on it too much. After all, a one-legged stool has nothing else to stand on and will eventually fall, right? Instead, I encourage you to make sure you are balancing that strength by focusing on improving any obvious opportunities for development as well.
So, What Does This Mean For You?
When I coach leaders, I often conduct verbal feedback sessions with their colleagues, direct reports, and bosses. Then, I recap the feedback with the client, making note of what was said, starting with what I heard most and working my way down to what I heard least. Usually, two or three very clear strengths emerge for each executive, along with two or three clear opportunities for development.
But occasionally, I run across leaders who have such prevalent and clear strengths that these positive behaviors or skills have actually turned into weaknesses as they’ve progressed in their careers.
How can this be true? Often, when you’re younger, certain behaviors are admired and useful – they help you get promotions, increased compensation, and bonuses. But as you find yourself at increasingly higher levels of your organization (from middle management upwards), these same behaviors can be described as “derailing.”
Here are just a few examples of behaviors that can start out as strengths but later become weaknesses:
- Being “too” passionate or ambitious. The higher up you get, the more a calm, confident Executive Presence will get you where you want to go.
- Being excellent at execution, but not very good at strategy. At the lower levels of leadership, execution is important. As you rise in the ranks, however, you do less of the ground work and more of the strategizing that moves the company forward.
- Volunteering to go above and beyond. This is an excellent trait early on in your career, but as you take on higher ranking positions, you start to appear like someone who simply can’t say “no” – and that could mean a lack of self-leadership.
- Managing down very well, but ignoring “up” and “across.” Younger leaders spend the majority of their time managing “down” to their teams. The higher up you go in an organization, though, the more critical it is to manage up and across (to your superiors and your peers).
- Being “too” democratic. Earlier in your career, being democratic helps build relationships and forge ties. But sometimes, as a more senior executive, you simply have to take charge and make a decision. This is exactly why leadership at the top can be so lonely.
- Being excellent at building business but not at people-leadership skills. Many leaders rely on their outstanding business results to get them moving up the ladder. That may work earlier on in your career, but failing to pay attention to the importance of relationships often causes leaders to fail at the upper echelons of an organization.
Do you recognize yourself in any of those descriptions?
Actions to take:
1. If you have a clear strength, it will show up consistently in the feedback you receive. Think about what you’re really good at – the #1 compliment you tend to hear. What would happen if you were too much of that?
- Too outgoing
- Too smart?
- Too respectful
- Too adaptable/too flexible
2. How balanced are others seeing you right now? If it has been a while since you received feedback, be sure to get some 360-degree inputs soon to determine if your strengths are still strengths. Get clear on how others perceive, think, and feel about you so that you know the condition of your brand as a leader.
3. Use the “circle exercise” to gauge how balanced you are in terms of a specific behavior. Let’s say you need to assess whether you’ve managed down too much and not enough up and across. Draw a circle on a plain sheet of paper, and look at your calendar over the course of any given week. What portion of a typical week do you spend with your team, as opposed to grooming relationships with peers and bosses/superiors? Divide the circle into a pie chart, with one section signifying the total time you spend managing your team, another for the time you spend managing peers, and another for the time you spend managing bosses/superiors.
- How do the three sections compare? Are you devoting enough time to developing good connections with all stakeholders, or do you spend more of your time with one group than others? This is an extremely important perspective to keep in mind and will help you make sure you are balancing your self-leadership energies at the appropriate amounts with the right stakeholders.
4. Focus on developing one or two core areas of development, while maintaining the powerful strength or two that you already have. Find the balance between keeping your signature strengths and adapting them for the position you now hold.
5. How do your strengths need to be adjusted as you move up the ladder? What do you need to do differently for your next desired position? For clues, be sure to observe successful leaders in higher positions. What can you learn from them?
I’m also excited to share with you that my new book, Leading YOU™: The power of self-leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success, will be released January 2, 2017! In this companion book to Would YOU Want to Work for YOU™, I share the top 15 self-leadership mistakes I regularly see in my coaching practice, and provide you with dozens of tips and tools to help you immediately correct them and advance in your career. If you have found this blog post helpful, I think you’ll love Leading YOU™! In the book, I provide many more techniques and suggestions for how to deal with the most prevalent self-leadership challenges. Click here to read an excerpt from Leading YOU™.