A key non-negotiable in good leadership is that we understand who we are and how we are wired. There are numerous tests and evaluative tools to help us discern these and therefore understand ourselves better. These by themselves, though, are not enough. They are a starting point but not an end point. In fact, if all we do is understand our strengths we may ultimately fail in leadership.

In addition to knowing our strengths there are three additional pieces that are crucial in order to use this information in leading well.

First, just as we need to understand our strengths we must focus on who we are not! Most of us have one to three strong areas of strength, or you could argue the top five strengths in Strength Finders. That information by itself is inadequate. We must also be brutally honest with ourselves as to our weaknesses. 

Why? Because while we may be brilliant at a few things, in everything else we need other people who  have strengths where we don't and who can compensate for our weaknesses. Too many leaders think that they can lead alone. It isn't true and will generally fail! And the more complex the organization we lead the more critical it is that we have a team around us. 

Once we acknowledge our weaknesses which are legion compared to our few strengths, we must also acknowledge our need for other people. This only happens when we are honest with ourselves regarding our weaknesses. 

Second, we must understand our shadow side with the greatest clarity possible through the feedback of others. I am convinced that we spend far too much time exploring our strengths and far too little time exploring the shadow side of those strengths. While we love our strengths, every one of them comes with a shadow side that can undo our leadership if we do not manage it. 

Here we also need other people. We are often blind to our shadow side, but our staff and colleagues are not. Unless we allow them permission to share honestly with us and unless we ask we will generally not learn what we need to learn about ourselves. For many leaders their shadow side is as powerful as their strengths effectively neutralizing those strengths over time. To lead well, we must understand our shadow side as well as we do our strengths. 

Third, we must learn how to manage our shadow side. We need to take active steps to counter that shadow side so that it does not hurt our leadership by hurting people. For instance, in the parlance of Strength Finders I have achiever, maximizer, and strategic in my top five strengths. They have served me well. But, until I understood and actively managed the shadow side of these strengths I was accused of running over people, impatience, valuing the project over the person, pride and I am sure other negative criticisms, all real!

Pride comes from paying too much attention to our strengths. Humility comes from appreciating our strengths but also recognizing our huge need for others, the presence of a shadow side and the need to manage it. When we see our strengths in perspective we have much to be humble about.

Creating cultures of organizational excellence

  • Jan 06, 2019
  • Category: News
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