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