Know Your Strengths as a Leader–And Know When to Not Use Them

Sinking your teeth into that first Thin Mint is a glorious moment. The sweet taste of fresh chocolate explodes in your mouth. Then you have another one. It’s just as tasty as the first, but the explosion of flavor isn’t quite as memorable. The third cookie is good; the fourth is fine; by the time you get to the 32nd cookie, you can’t even taste it, and your stomach is waving the white flag. 

More doesn’t mean better, and the same logic applies to leadership. Time and time again, I’ve seen leaders overuse their strengths. That seems a bit odd, right? Everyone is always looking for ways to identify and utilize their natural talents, but it’s time we talk about knowing your strengths as a leader and when not to use them. Ready?

What is a Strength?

So, what is a strength exactly? Dr. Alex Linley, a psychologist and expert in the field of strengths, gives us this definition:

A strength is a pre-existing capacity for a particular way of behaving, thinking, or feeling that is authentic and energizing to the user and enables optimal functions, development, and performance.

Benefits of Connecting to Your Strengths as a Leader

How could something that both energizes and produces optimal function and development ever be something that works against us? Well, most of the time, our strengths are our best friends that keep us on track and enable us to be worthy team members.

Here are some personal and professional benefits of connecting to your strengths as a leader:

  • Increases authenticity
  • Provides Intrinsic motivation
  • Assists in reaching a state of flow
  • Creates coping mechanisms
  • Increases job satisfaction 
  • Makes life more meaningful
  • Decreases stress and depressive symptoms
  • Increases engagement

But all these noteworthy benefits start to dissipate, like the flavor of that 32nd Thin Mint, when you can’t find a balance. Simply throwing your strengths around in every situation isn’t exactly a calculated approach, and you will eventually spread them too thin to be effective.

How Can Our Strengths Work Against Us?

It doesn’t take much for our strengths to begin working against us. When they are applied to the wrong situations, suddenly, we see their dark sides, which can lead to friction in both your personal and professional life.

For example, let’s say honesty is one of your primary strengths. If you use it correctly, it can help hold team members accountable, provide more effective performance assessments, and create a positive reputation for your company in the industry.

However, can you think of circumstances where honesty could work against you?

Of course, you can!

If one of your team members isn’t performing well at work and needs a boost of confidence, brutal honestly isn’t going to be the best route to take. Instead of just diving into a spiel about that person’s lack of motivation or confidence, it would be more beneficial to use kindness and compassion. Failing to do so could worsen their performance and confidence and negatively impact their opinion of you.

Here are what certain strengths can turn into:

  • Honesty becomes self-righteousness
  • Kindness becomes intrusiveness
  • Fairness becomes detachment
  • Teamwork becomes dependence
  • Perseverance becomes obsessiveness

So, to avoid turning strengths into weapons, let’s look at how to know when your strengths as a leader are being overused.

How to Know When Strengths Are Being Overused?

We can find out when our strengths are being overused in two primary ways: self-analyzation and listening to feedback.

Self-analyzing doesn’t always come naturally to us; often, we’re more likely to analyze others before ourselves. But checking in with yourself is crucial for monitoring how you are using your strengths. Remember, utilizing a strength is energizing and helps you develop as a leader and person. If you notice that using a strength has become draining or your authenticity turns into eccentricity, well, those are telltale signs of an issue. 

Additionally, asking for feedback is an excellent tactic to see if the perspectives of the way you are using your strengths match your intentions. If not, then adjustments need to be made.

Ways to Optimize Your Strengths as a Leader

Optimizing your strengths is key. A bodybuilder can’t just rely on muscles to break weightlifting records without proper form and techniques; strengths are no different.

Here are a few ways to optimize your strengths as a leader:

Know your strengths: Identifying your strengths is step one. You can use tools like Gallup’s CliftonStrengths assessment to ensure the strengths you have been utilizing actually match your personality.

Become self-aware: Don’t think that using your strengths as a leader is always beneficial. Consistently ask yourself if your strengths are hindering effectiveness or causing friction in the workplace.

Find new uses for your strengths: Strengths can be used in all sorts of ways. Instead of overusing them at work, look for other places to apply them in your life, such as with your family or hobbies. In fact, finding new usages for your strengths can boost your overall happiness in as short as one week!

Seek feedback: You can never have too much feedback. Hearing what others have to say about the way we use our strengths provides insights we otherwise could never have. So, be open, listen carefully, and use the information to your advantage.

Final Thoughts

Remember the Thin Mints. Cookies taste great, but at some point, they just become too much. Knowing how to properly use your strengths as a leader will be beneficial for not just you but everyone you have contact with in your personal and professional life. So, don’t wait to assess the way you use your strengths. Take a step back, analyze yourself, and ask for feedback