The Reflection Pool

Greatest Strength, Greatest Weakness

“Sometimes your greatest strength can emerge as a weakness if the context changes.” – Harsha Bhogle

Photo Credit: marysmyth(NOLA 13I) via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: marysmyth(NOLA 13I) via Compfight cc

A very experienced leader in our district once gave me a piece of advice as we were discussing leadership and navigating difficult situations. It started as you might expect.  He shared that it was important to identify my greatest strength and use that in those pressure filled situations. Makes sense, right? Then the advice took an interesting turn.  He also shared that in his experience, most people’s greatest strength becomes their Achilles heel. I nodded wisely at the time, but my head had a big question mark over it.

I really didn’t understand how this could be true. Most of the informal and formal leaders I admired talked about “knowing yourself”,  “leading from your strengths”, or “sharing your passion”. Most never mentioned weaknesses linked to strengths.  I am well aware of my weaknesses. Who isn’t?  We all try to cover up those not so stellar aspects of ourselves, hoping that no one will notice. The idea that my strengths and weaknesses could somehow be linked was puzzling and a little scary.

Over time, I found that advice rising to the forefront as I observed others. I saw leaders who were great at building relationships and getting people to like them. But some couldn’t make hard decisions that might displease people. I watched brilliant thinkers create and innovate and be unable to explain these amazing ideas to those they worked with. I noticed that detail oriented excellent organizers sometimes couldn’t see the big picture. I started to get it.

Without reflection, growth isn’t possible, so my natural next step was to turn the lens on myself. One of my strengths is my ability to plan and work independently and efficiently on projects and tasks for a good result. I’ve come to know that the flip side is that sometimes I’m way too independent and don’t communicate or involve the right people in the planning or problem solving.  Realizing what I need to work on helps me focus, in this case on my collaboration and communication. While I can’t fix everything all at once, it provides a signpost to improvement and I try to choose next best doable steps to get there. For example, I write myself little reminders about who I need to communicate with. And I always appreciate when a colleague points out I forgot to communicate with them!

Leading successfully is about knowing yourself. What are your greatest strengths? Could they become weaknesses too?

9 thoughts on “Greatest Strength, Greatest Weakness

  1. This is a very thoughtful post, Sue, and links well with my reflections on my second session of Leadership 1. I am definitely the person who prides herself on building strong relationships but does not want to make unpopular decisions. Have you completed the 4D-i assessment? My strengths/weaknesses assessment was based on my results and my blog post is here: http://learn-always.com/2014/11/15/whats-your-operating-style-reflections-on-my-second-session-of-leadership-1/

    We looked at the strength and weakness sides of each operating style during our discussion at Leadership 1. We were asked to brainstorm in groups what our strengths were based on our profile, what our weaknesses could be, and how our operating style could be perceived by others, in either a positive or negative light. I think this gave us a well-rounded view of ourselves.

    I am a firm believer in knowing yourself and leading from your strengths, but a balanced self-awareness is essential for successful leadership.

    1. Sue, some great points here and it is obvious you have done some deep reflecting. By identifying your areas of growth you are being reflective. You have realized the need for more frequent communication and collaboration and your plan for writing reminders is an actionable step you can take in the future.

      This has also sparked a thought with me and how others need to think. When I started aggressively focusing on presuming positive intentions, it changed the way I thought. I no longer was judging during conversation, I was listening for the purpose to think and not respond and I just simply started to see others in a positive light. Maybe this is how some others need to think when working with you?

      If we can create a culture where everyone is assuming positive intentions, people might not be so judgemental of you being “way too independent and (lack of) communication”. People could simply realize this is your approach and I have always known you to have positive intentions which forces you to think deeply, pause and ask direct questions. Your goal is great, we absolutely need to collaborate and communicate, but if I may very liberally paraphrase you stating more communication as others seeing you as hard to read, they might just need to presume positive intentions themselves and learn to be less judgemental.

      Keep on working it, you’re a great leader!

  2. Thanks, Sue. I’ve been thinking about this one an awful lot since I read your thoughts. I wonder with the advice you were given if the mentor (or you) ever experienced the frustration that the strengths you have don’t seem to mesh at all with all of those pressure-filled situations. I think accepting the two sidedness of those traits is easier if they actually match the situations you have. Knowing strengths and needs is a great starting point. I wonder about what you also do with the wants.
    I need to reflect a bit more, and since blogging always helps me do that, I’ll work on a post of my own. Knowing ourselves would be much easier if we were more one dimensional 🙂

    1. I look forward to your post – I always enjoy reading them, since we think very differently. Your comment proves this, as the point you bring up is not one I’ve considered. I wonder if the reason your strengths you refer to don’t mesh with the pressure filled situation is because you don’t see them as multi dimensional and adaptable?

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate it.

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