When Leaders Overplay Their Strengths

Self-awareness is a cornerstone of leadership success. No leader is equally strong in all areas, and characteristics that were strengths yesterday may actually impede progress tomorrow.


To know where you are strong and where you need development, it’s important to look objectively at:


  • Areas in which you need to develop greater strength or modify behaviors in order to achieve your key objectives

  • Areas that could hinder or even derail your efforts in your new position


Nearly any competency or strength can also, if overused or misused, derail a leader. Faced with a demanding new set of challenges, it is common for most of us to reach for the skills and behaviors that have served us well in the past. However, the most comfortable tool is not necessarily the best tool for the job—or even an appropriate one.


When assuming new leadership responsibilities, it is especially important to take stock of strengths andtheir appropriate application in the new role. It is crucial to be alert for the “down-side” potential of each strength that can lead to derailment.


The following list shows key strengths that can have potential drawbacks if overused or misused.




  • Action Bias - Reckless and dictatorial, or perceived that way.

  • Charismatic - Tendency to deflect healthy skepticism.

  • Customer-Focused - Fails to achieve breakthrough thinking; overly conservative, unrealistic, or unable to control costs.

  • Results-Oriented - Allows ethical lapses or holds lopsided values; creates work/life imbalance for self and subordinates.

  • Sets High Standards - Overly selective; never fills positions.

  • Supportive - Fosters dependence; fails to challenge staff.


Business Intelligence


  • Analytic Thinker - Suffers from “analysis paralysis;” indecisive; builds overly large staffs.

  • Decisive - Impulsive or reckless; perceived as dictatorial, insensitive to others, or oblivious to other perspectives.

  • Detail-Oriented - Lacks vision and strategic abilities.

  • Global Perspective - Tends to get overextended, unfocused; misses local opportunities.

  • Highly Intelligent - Dismissive of others’ perspectives, intimidating, or arrogant; impatient with or inattentive to important pragmatic concerns and details.

  • Imaginative - Unrealistic; perceived as eccentric; has trouble selling ideas.

  • Innovative - Unrealistic or impractical; wastes time and money.

  • Prudent - Overly cautious or inflexible; unable to innovate.

  • Visionary Strategic - Insufficient detail-orientation, focus, or tactical skill.


Interpersonal & Organizational Relations


  • Charming - Perceived as manipulative; blind to others’ perspectives.

  • Frank - Insensitive, unnecessarily damaging important relationships.

  • Interpersonally Skilled - Unwilling to make tough, unpopular decisions; not demanding enough.

  • Sets High Standards - Perceived as autocratic; unwilling to coach or support learning.

  • Strong Ties with Supervisor - Not independent enough, or perceived that way.

  • Team Player - Overly risk-averse; fails to assert independent judgment when needed.

  • Tough Negotiator - Unnecessarily damages important relationships.


Personal Performance Management


  • Ambitious - More committed to own advancement than to the organization or to specific assignments; allows ethical lapses.

  • Confident - Perceived as arrogant; over-commits and under-delivers; resists needed coaching & feedback.

  • Conscientious - Over-manages subordinates; fails to empower and develop others sufficiently.

  • Independent - Unable to collaborate.

  • Poise under Pressure - Reluctant to discuss doubts or seek needed feedback and counsel.

  • Principled - Perceived as overly rigid or self-righteous; unnecessarily imposes own values.

  • Successful Track Record - Overly reliant on past ideas and approaches; becomes arrogant, underestimating new challenges or need for collaboration.

  • Tough - Perceived as abrasive; unnecessarily damages important relationships.




About the Author

Guest author Jesse Jacoby is Managing Principal at Emergent (www.EmergentConsultants.com) and a recognized expert in business transformation and strategic change management. He and his team partner with Fortune 500 and mid-market companies across North America to deliver successful people and change strategies, supporting a range of business initiatives including organizational restructurings, technology deployments, strategic growth initiatives, mergers, and outsourcing.


Topics: Change Management

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