Lopsided Leadership: When Strengths Fail

Lopsided Leadership: When Strengths Fail

In the last decade, leadership-development experts have enthusiastically pushed to improve their clients’ strengths instead of addressing their weaknesses. This approach may have some success in growing individuals’ effectiveness, but it’s fundamentally flawed. Strengths training and coaching have somewhat of a cult-like following among HR and coaching professionals. Leaders are encouraged to develop their unique strengths and focus on fortifying areas in which they’re naturally talented. Amazon sells almost 8,000 books on the subject, including several bestsellers published by Gallup, whose StrengthsFinder assessment tool is now used by 1.6 million employees every year and 467 Fortune 500 companies. In some companies, even the word “weakness” has become politically incorrect. Staff is instead described as having strengths and “opportunities for growth” or “challenges.” It’s easy to see why concentrating on leadership strengths is popular. It’s more enjoyable to hone in on innate strengths and avoid discussing weaknesses. But when strengths-oriented programs emphasize a single leadership area, they bypass others—usually to a manager’s detriment. When strengths are overemphasized, they’re often overused. “We’ve seen virtually every strength taken too far: confidence to the point of hubris, and humility to the point of diminishing oneself. We’ve seen vision drift into aimless dreaming, and focus narrow down to tunnel vision. Show us a strength and we’ll give you an example where its overuse has compromised performance and probably even derailed a career.” —Robert B. Kaiser and Robert E. Kaplan, “Don’t Let Your Strengths Become Your Weaknesses,” Harvard Business Review, April 04, 2013 Too Much of a Good Thing Doing too much of something is as much of a problem as doing too little of...
Overcoming Boredom at Work

Overcoming Boredom at Work

Even though you may have a great job, you can still experience boredom. Who hasn’t been sitting at the computer when a restless feeling starts gnawing away and thoughts meander anywhere but on the task required? A feeling of boredom can cause one to question the meaning and value of just about everything. Boredom isn’t just wasteful, it is stressful. If you’re busy, and yet still bored, it’s even more so. "My boredom stems not from having nothing to do but from having nothing that seems worthwhile doing. We human beings are addicted to meaning, and this kind of existential boredom signals its unhappy retreat." ~ Mark de Rond, "Are You Busy at Work but Still Bored?" Harvard Business Review, July 2012. Boredom can come not only from having nothing to do but from having nothing that seems worthwhile to do. If boredom came solely from a lack of things to do, we could eliminate boredom by simply having more to do. But this solution only works in the short-term when what we are asked to do does not feel meaningful. What Causes Boredom? Boredom is not something to be taken lightly. Research suggests that many areas of a person’s life can be seriously impacted by feelings of boredom. In studies using a boredom-process scale, those who rated low were better performers in areas such as education, career and autonomy. Let’s explore three types of boredom. The first type shows up when we are prevented from engaging in wanted activity. The second type occurs when we are forced to engage in unwanted activity; and the third type is when,...
The Art of Receiving Feedback

The Art of Receiving Feedback

“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.” ~ Bill Gates Receiving feedback with grace is a valuable leadership skill, yet many managers struggle with it. While we’re often quick to critique others, being on the receiving end involves an entirely different set of emotional and psychological skills. Few leaders deny feedback’s benefits, but their openness to hearing and applying it may fall short. Accepting feedback is a best-practice skill that requires emotional intelligence, relational aptitude and humility. The benefits extend to everyone in the workplace and beyond. Four fundamental concepts will help you manage professional feedback: Recognize feedback for what it actually is: information about yourself. It almost always involves someone’s assessment of you—fairly simple, yet not always fair. Three types of feedback, with differing purposes, potential benefits and pitfalls, are at play. Inherent tensions will affect how you feel during any feedback session (i.e., your need to excel, be accepted and be seen as worthy). Each of us has these emotional survival traits, which can cloud our emotions as we listen to criticism. Consequently, we experience resistance to feedback. Some of us brace for it, some fear it, and others try to prevent its delivery altogether. Three Types of Feedback Leadership consultants Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen describe three types of feedback conversations in Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well  (Penguin Books, 2014): Appreciatory: Benefits: uplifting, acknowledging, reassuring Pitfalls: can be unspecific or unclear, can be patronizing or inconsistent with the leader’s or organization’s values (a means to an end) Instructive: Benefits: can teach and allow...