Because many individuals have not understood that their greatest assets (strengths) can also be their greatest liabilities, they simply don’t pay the kind of attention to the downside of their strengths that they need to if they are truly going to have significant influence. However, people of deep influence are acutely aware of both their strengths and the liabilities of those strengths. And they pay as much or more attention to the liabilities as they do to the strength.
Think about this: our strengths are just that – strengths. Over time, if we are living in our sweet spot they grow and develop without a whole lot of attention from us. God wired us with those strengths so they are natural. I have the ability and strength to think strategically. I can envision what can be in five or ten years without even thinking about it. What is hard or impossible for others is easy and second nature for me in thinking strategically.
The liabilities that comes with that particular gift, however are not as obvious to me: impatience with those who don’t see what I can see, the potential that others may see my confidence about what direction to take as arrogance.
I will never forget a meeting I had years ago with a bright young woman who reported to me. She came into my office to share an idea with me that she thought had great potential. About two minutes into our conversation her eyes flashed with anger and she said, “Don’t ever look that way at me again?” I said, “What do you mean? What way?” She said, “I can tell from your eyes that you have already dismissed my idea as one that won’t work!” She was right, my eyes had given it away and in the process my strategic strength (in this case I was sure it would not work) had become my liability by sending her a message of disempowerment. It was a learning moment that I had to apologize for and learn from.
Our strengths come naturally. The liabilities to our strengths are not obvious to us unless we spend significant time understanding the liabilities and the ways our strengths can hurt us and others if the liabilities are not managed.
Further, people of deep influence do not become that by focusing on the deficits of others but on their own deficits primarily. They are deeply aware of who they are, they think deeply about their own motivations and how they treat others. They have developed an inner early warning system that warns them when they are going to the shadow side and they discipline themselves to manage their liabilities. They understand the council of Christ that we are first responsible for taking the log out of our own eye before we try to take the splinter out of someone else’s eye.
Every one of us has areas in our lives where we are blind to how our actions impact others. A large part of managing our shadow side is understanding not only how we perceive ourselves but how other perceive us and why they perceive us the way they do. However, because we are dealing with “blind spots” the only way we can get to this awareness is by receiving feedback from others. And that requires self confidence, humility and a nothing to prove, nothing to lose attitude. This is why many young leaders resist such feedback, it is threatening and uncomfortable. I know, I have been there!
One of the most valuable lessons I have learned over the years is to welcome and not resist feedback – particularly from those who I know love me and have my best interests in mind. My wife, Mary Ann is one of those who will always tell me the truth and I know she does it out of love and concern. I have a trusted group of colleagues and friends who have the same right to speak into my life and whose council I trust. I would rather know than not know where I have blind spots or am being misperceived because of actions or words than live like the emperor who had no clothes, oblivious to his nakedness. The key, of course, is knowing who one can trust to have one’s best interests in mind. Another one of those groups is my prayer team who regularly share with me feedback that they have as they have interceded on my behalf.
I have also learned to ask feedback from those I trust rather than just hope it will come. I know, for instance, that I can be perceived as distant by some. It is not how I feel but it can be how I am perceived. I would not know that unless I had received feedback that helped me see what I could not see. Knowing that such a perception is possible, I can work to find ways to connect with those who otherwise might see me as distant.
I have learned that the more candid I am about who I am and the struggles I face, the more approachable I become. This has led me to be far more self disclosing with those around me than I was as a young leader when I thought that such self disclosure could be seen as weakness. It also comes out of a nothing to prove, nothing to lose attitude by which I seek to live today. While I may not be wired like some who are deeply relational, the connection that comes through authentic self disclosure is a powerful connection and invites relationship with others.
My point is that the more we learn about ourselves both from our own awareness and from those around us who care about us, the better we become at playing to our strengths and minimizing our liabilities. There are many things I wish I knew years ago but did not. I am simply thankful that I know them now. And, I want to continue in my quest for healthy self awareness for the sake of the influence that I can and want to have in the future.