What’s Lost in Finding Your Strengths

There has been a strengths movement sweeping this country. Just recently Bob led a webinar with the Center for Creative Leadership. About 60 percent of the audience of senior HR and Learning & Development executives was familiar with the book Now, Discover Your Strengths and its self-diagnostic tool, the StrengthsFinder.

The central idea of the strengths movement is that it’s wrong to focus on trying to fix an executive’s weakness because greatness comes only from building on natural talent. Strengths advocates promote this very worthy idea  to stop obsessing about your weaknesses because you’re never going to be great at those things. Instead, maximize your strengths. The problem is that’s just one side of the story. And it’s overstated. What’s missing from the strengths movement is that a strength can be overused and become dangerous and debilitating. It is neglectful, if not irresponsible, to assess executives for their strengths without warning them of the risk of taking that strength too far.

There is power is focusing on your strengths, but it derives from acknowledging them in their totality, from having a keen, finely-tuned awareness of both the good and the harm they can do. Becoming a better leader, then is not a matter of indiscriminately playing to your strengths, but of continually adjusting their volume to just the right setting for every situation.

Our article in the May 2013 issue of Leadership Excellence addresses our concerns with the strengths movement and implications for Implications for senior executives and practitioners.