Can strengths be a performance risk?

Regular readers of this blog will know I’m a Big Fan of the strengths-based approach. I’ve seen teams and individuals light up with a new sense of purpose and a boost to their energy once strengths are identified. But this isn’t la-la land; there is actually a potential downside to our strengths. Used in the wrong context and / or in ‘overdrive’ our strengths can present a serious risk to our performance. At worst they can derail a promising career.

When I take people through their Strengthscope® profile some people, while pleased to see their strengths, seem more concerned with their ‘non-strengths’ or weaknesses. This thinking belongs with historic management approaches of ‘fixing’ people’s weaknesses (presumably so they all turn out the same). Don’t get me wrong: let’s call weaknesses just that, and manage them to minimise their impact. But the point that’s often missed by focusing on weaknesses is that they’re seldom what sends our performance goes off track – that’s the mischief brought about by our strengths going into overdrive.

Let’s say you have a standout strength of detail orientation: you love to dig into the nitty gritty, dot the Is and cross the Ts. It comes to you easily and you enjoy work that requires a high level of thoroughness. And let’s say you have strategic thinking as a non-strength or weakness. It’s possible that in performance conversations the weakness may come up for discussion, but when you’ve really found yourself in a tricky situation it’s because your detail orientation strength has gone into overdrive. You were micro-managing, failing to delegate, checking and double-checking everything so much that deadlines were at risk and people became demotivated.

As you get taken to task by your manager for demotivating your team, colleagues and suppliers, your mind goes back to when you were first hired – for your strengths in detail orientation. Sound familiar?

What causes overdrive?

It can be a change of situation, like a new job role and / or a new work culture, which can shake up our view of ourselves. It could be stress as a result of pressures outside of work. All too often, overdrive is simply the result of a lack of awareness – and the feedback needed to help raise that self-awareness.

Because our strengths can serve us well so much of the time, when things get tough we can fall back on them, overusing them and applying them to all the wrong situations.

What can you do to minimise performance risks?

1. First, identify your standout strengths and how they serve you well. Look at how these strengths can show up in overdrive and explore the possible triggers. How can you better manage the triggers? You can start with ‘If…then… ‘ plans.

2. You can bring other strengths to bear on the problem, using those more often and easing off the overdrive strengths. For example in the case of our detail orientation manager, they could have a strength in developing others and bring that to the fore to enable them to confidently delegate the right work to the right people, instead of hoarding it for themselves.

3. Try using the strength in a different way and in a different situation. Detail orientation may prove vital in testing a prototype, or mapping out clear processes so others can take the right steps at the right time.

NEWSFLASH: I’m leading a workshop on 24 May where you can get your personalised Strengthscope profile. Find out more here. 

You may also find this post useful: ‘Play to your strengths to promote your personal brand’ – and be sure to grab your downloadable guide.

Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’ and ‘How to be Zoomly at work’

Image credit: GMB Monkey on Unsplash

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