Overusing Strengths Creates Weaknesses

by Merrick Rosenberg

When it comes to using our strengths, too much of a good thing is not a good thing. How can this be? Shouldn’t we focus on strengths, capitalize on them, and use them every chance we can? Of course, but when our strengths are exhibited at extremes, they become our weakness.

Take optimism, for example, the ability to think positively and see the bright side of things, even in the face of adversity. A willingness to see the good in all situations and not get bogged down in negative thought patterns. How can too much optimism be bad? Consider the eternal optimist who is so upbeat that he only sees things as he wants them to be, not as they really are. Or the person who is so optimistic about a project, that she has unrealistic expectations and thus, sets herself up for inevitable failure.

And what about the ability to be analytical? Surely organizations want people who can logically assess a situation, determine alternative courses of action, and then select the best possible strategy to achieve results. These strengths are valuable in any organization, but once again, at an extreme, the individual gets bogged down in too many details and cannot make a decision. Analysis paralysis causes deadlines to be missed.

Take a look at some core strengths and examine how they can be overused:

Strength Overuse
Desire for results Steamrolling over
Directness Insensitivity
Enthusiasm Overly bubbly
Inquisitiveness Critical
Independence Poor team player
Patience Complacence
Cooperativeness Conflict avoidance

Creating Balance
The Oracle at Delphi advocated, “Everything in moderation.” Thus, the key is to utilize our strengths at a healthy balanced level and not overuse them. While it is relatively easy to identify when our coworkers are overusing their strengths, we often fail to recognize our own shortcomings.

The first step to tapping the full power of your strengths is to identify your core competencies. You may wish to ask your coworkers or manager, “What do I do that allows me to be an effective contributor to the organization?”

Once you’ve established a list of your core strengths, identify what each strength would look like at its healthy and overuse levels. Next, determine at which point on the continuum you are using each of your strengths. Once again, feedback from your peers and manager may be helpful. Finally, identify behaviors that need to be “toned down” so that strengths are used effectively.

As Benjamin Franklin said, “Wasted strengths are like sundials in the shade.” Consider the following behaviors that may need to be toned down and the accompanying strategies for improvement:

  • Directness – Ask more questions, soften the tone of your words
  • Reactive nature – Respond instead of react; think before you speak
  • Conviction – The strength in which you convey your own ideas may cause others to believe that you are not open to their ideas
  • Enthusiasm for ideas – Stay focused on the task, not just the idea of the task
  • Desire to keep things positive – Be firm and direct in dealing with less favorable situations or inappropriate behavior of others
  • Big-picture thinking – Provide details to others who need them
  • Helpful nature – Assert your right to say ‘no’ when helping others interferes with your own productivity
  • Desire for harmony – View conflict as an opportunity for positive growth and change
  • Willingness to take on responsibility – Delegate to others if your plate is full
  • Dedication to work – Explore the benefits of play
  • Desire for the ‘right’ answer – Develop a greater tolerance for ambiguity, and human imperfection
  • Rational nature – Recognize that others may react to situations from the heart, rather than from the head, and that neither is ‘good’ or ‘bad’

In Closing
Alexandre Dumas once wrote, “Any virtue carried to an extreme can become a crime.” And so it is with our strengths. Take the time to assess your strengths and make sure that they are helping, not hindering your success

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