If you have goal to grow as a leader, you’re on the right track. If you have a plan of how to get there, you’re doing even better. But where have you put your focus?
Many leaders choose to focus their development energy on areas they think (or have been told) are their weak areas. But is that really the best strategy?
If you’re going to invest the effort into becoming a stronger leader, it pays to make sure your focus is in the right place.
Identify Your Strengths
Until you have identified what your strengths are, you’ll benefit from them somewhat. But you’ll never be able to consciously put them to productive use. In fact, your own assessment of your strengths will likely vary, based on recent projects, career recognition and feedback.
The single best source I’ve found for identifying my own strengths (and millions of others) is the Gallup StrengthsFinder assessment, which identifies your top five strengths (out of 34). As an example, my top five strengths are: futuristic, maximizer, strategic, focus and relator. Not only do these strengths help me accomplish my work in the most effective manner, but they in essence allow me to “see the future” since I can predict which roles and projects I’m likely to excel at ahead of time and enjoy in the process – and also which ones to avoid if possible.
StrengthsFinder isn’t the only strengths-based methodology, but it’s a very easy starting point. Identifying your strengths is always the first step.
Every Strength Has a Dark Side
When I present on strengths to corporate groups, my favorite section is called “balconies and basements.” In it, we talk about the positive aspects of our strengths but also the negative ones. On one hand, our strengths can allow us to perform at peak levels, sometimes without much effort. The downside is that our strengths can work against us if we’re not careful. We can inadvertently pressure others to adapt to our strengths (instead of us complementing with theirs) or miss opportunities due to tunnel vision. Lack of awareness and heavy stress tend to send us to our “basement” the quickest and keep us there longer.
Since our strengths come much more naturally to us (and are usually much more intense), the ineffective use of a strength often does much more damage than a weakness.
Neutralize Your Weaknesses
Obviously we all have weaknesses (or areas of “non-strength”). I always recommend several approaches for these areas:
- Leverage the strengths of others. Instead of attempting to excel in every area (hint: you can’t), include others with complementary strengths in your work. The best leaders usually aren’t well-rounded, but the best teams are.
- Minimize your weaknesses, if possible. There are often many ways to perform a task. Whenever you have the autonomy, choose the method that plays to your strengths, thereby making your weakness irrelevant in that situation.
- Use your strengths to compensate for areas of weakness. For example, if you are not a strong communicator but are a very competitive person, turn your communication challenges into a competition in order to generate the energy you need to perform.
At the end of the day, you’ll never succeed as a leader by working outside your areas of strength. Make sure to always give them the highest priority in your development efforts. The more you sharpen your strengths, you more effective you’ll be.
Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader. Receive his ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website or follow him on Twitter.