Lopsided leadership - When leaders' strengths fail

Queen of office

In the last decade, leadership development experts have enthusiastically pushed to improve leadership strengths instead of addressing leaders’ weaknesses. This approach may have some success in growing individuals’ effectiveness, but it’s fundamentally flawed. 

Strengths training and coaching have a somewhat cult-like following among HR and coaching professionals. Leaders are encouraged to develop their unique strengths and focus on fortifying areas in which they’re naturally talented. 

Amazon sells almost 8,000 books on the subject, including several bestsellers published by Gallup, whose StrengthsFinder assessment tool is now used by 1.6 million employees every year and 467 Fortune 500 companies.

From what we have observed in our work with many companies, even the word “weakness” has become politically incorrect. Staff is instead described as having strengths and “opportunities for growth” or “challenges.” Interestingly, a similar trend emerged in Quality Management Systems in which "nonconformance" was deemed politically incorrect especially when the term was used in connection with workers. "Opportunities for improvement" or "quality issues" drifted in as the desired terms.

Concentrating on strengths and opportunities vs weaknesses and nonconformance is popular, alluring, and attractive. When we are talking about people, especially ourselves, it’s more enjoyable to hone in on innate strengths and avoid discussing weaknesses. But when strengths-oriented programs emphasize a single leadership area, they bypass others—usually to a manager’s detriment. 

When overemphasized, strengths become overused. 

“We’ve seen virtually every strength taken too far: confidence to the point of hubris, and humility to the point of diminishing oneself. We’ve seen vision drift into aimless dreaming, and focus narrow down to tunnel vision. Show us a strength and we’ll give you an example where overuse has compromised performance and probably even derailed a career.”

Robert B. Kaiser and Robert E. Kaplan, “Don’t Let Your Strengths Become Your Weaknesses,” Harvard Business Review, April 04, 2013 


Too much of a good thing

Doing too much of something is as much of a problem as doing too little. Most managers can point to a leader who takes things too far: the supportive boss who cuts people a little too much slack or the gifted operational director whose relentless focus on results leads to micromanaging. These behaviours can be extremely difficult to recognize in ourselves.


Emotional Intelligence - A case in point

In our work with leaders, we have witnessed "too much of a good thing" particularly in Emotional Intelligence. Most of us are conditioned to strive for a higher score in just about everything. However, in emotional intelligence, there is a tipping point where high scores indicate overuse or over-reliance on certain skills. At this tipping point, the leaders' strengths begin to work against effectiveness and/or hit the level of diminishing returns. The EQ360, in particular, helps to reveal blind spots that when recognized, acknowledged, and addressed with coaching, supports the appropriate use of emotional intelligence strengths and work on weaknesses to enhance effectiveness.


Does any of this sound familiar? What’s your opinion? What have you observed as the leaders in your organization are encouraged to focus on their strengths?

We would love to hear your thoughts on this topic and begin the conversation about the value we can bring to your organization.

For information on EQ-i 2.0 and EQ360 assessments and coaching for your leaders, contact Patricia Muir at  patricia@maestroquality.com, at 905-858-7566, on LinkedInMaestro’s FacebookTwitter