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Why Focusing on Strengths Misses the Mark (And How You Can Fix It)

April 13, 2017 by Susan Drumm

Why Focusing on Strengths Misses the Mark (And How You Can Fix It)

We all have professional strengths, and right now, the popular idea is to determine what those strengths are and then work on building them up even more.

Makes sense, right?

Not exactly!

While focusing on the places where you excel might sound like a good idea, it’s not actually where the real leadership development happens. It will serve you, as a business leader, to be aware of what you’re good at and learn how you need to balance those strengths without it becoming a pitfall.


Let me explain this a little more. When I give workshops, I’ll be asked to include a StrengthsFinder exercise as part of my program. Great! I’m happy to do this and yes, it is very useful to know what your strengths are. But I always add a component that shows how honing in on your strengths – at the exclusion of other things – is really like too much of a good thing.

Ever eaten a really delicious piece of cake, but had more of it than you should have and then started feeling sick? Yeah, that’s what we’re talking about.


Organizational development expert Daniel Ofman has shown how being hyper-focused on your naturally good qualities can morph them into an unwanted extreme.

For example, let’s say your strength is being decisive — which is a wonderful quality! But, you may be getting feedback now you’re excessively pushy. Or let’s say you have high standards for quality work, taken too far, you go from being a boss that encourages the best from people to being a dreaded micro-manager.

Get the picture?


If you only focus on your strengths, you may say, “Yeah!  I should be even more and more decisive!” Sounds nice and probably easy for you. . .but everyone else is getting frustrated because you’ve taken it way too far. In fact, they know there’s room for you to be less pushy and incorporate feedback from others.

And why is that so hard? Because we all have triggers, or “allergies” to co-worker behaviors that, when we see it, will drive us right to overusing our strength. These “allergies,” are the thing that, when we see it in others, drives us absolutely nuts. So. . . if my strength is being decisive, my “allergy” might be inaction, when I see someone hanging back and not doing anything. When I have an allergic reaction, I’m much more likely to overuse my strength and become overly pushy. What’s even more helpful is understanding the team dynamics of how we can trigger the worst in each other – and that’s where the core insights lie for high performance teaming.


Focusing only on developing strengths is only half the story. Real development happens when you become aware of the blind spots and challenges of your leadership strengths. Once you have that knowledge, you can make sure you are bringing the best of you – keeping your strength in balance with more effective behaviors to lead your team more effectively.

Interested in leveraging the best of your strengths and avoiding pitfalls? Contact us for information about joining the Dream Team Academy.

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