I am a big proponent of 360-degree feedback – gathering the perspectives of your direct reports and staff, your peers, and your higher-ups to become more aware of how your behaviors, attitudes, and actions impact those around you. My own experience with receiving 360 feedback helped me to appreciate the value of this process and revealed that some of the very things that were my strengths were also the things that were getting in my way of being more effective.

Case in point – my ability to remain calm under pressure. People rated me high in this area and noted that I did not “lose it” when deadlines were looming or a conflict with another department arose. I was seen as someone who could see multiple sides of an issue, be rational, and approach a difficult situation without getting angry, defensive, or emotional. All good, right? Except that my ability to be calm was also seen as a problem by those around me. By not exhibiting outward signs of emotion and urgency, I was viewed as not being passionate enough about issues and not “lighting a fire” under team members to get work done.

It’s quite common that your strength can also be a weakness when used too often or when seen under stress. It is an area that I often delve into with coaching clients. Joan (not her real name) had a reputation as someone who was decisive and took action. Her bosses loved her ability to take on an issue, wrestle it quickly to the ground, and map a path forward. On the other hand, that same decisiveness, in situations where the situation was not clear-cut and viewpoints differed, was seen as bulldozing. Joan’s feedback showed that people often felt she did not seek out and consider different opinions and perspectives, did not listen well, and was not adept at collaborating to find mutually agreeable solutions. Henry (not his real name) had a great sense of humor and created a fun and productive work environment for his team. He was a leader that people could easily rally around and be inspired by. On the other hand, Henry’s use of humor was also inappropriate at times and, when conflicts arose, became more sarcastic than funny. In his 360 feedback, those around him wondered whether he needed to be more serious to be truly successful.

To avoid having your strengths turn into derailers, keep these tips in mind:

  • Continue to ask for feedback – the best way to know how your actions are affecting other people is to ask. I always strongly recommend that clients thank those who provided feedback to them, share the themes that came out of the feedback, and ask for support in addressing some of the development areas. Checking in periodically to get feedback on how you did during a meeting or whether your new behavior was noticed helps you and helps others see that you are changing for the better.
  • Pay particular attention when stress mounts – as mentioned earlier, strengths often become weaknesses under pressure. When tensions rise or you are feeling anxious, step away for a moment, breathe, or do whatever works for you to manage your emotions and your energy in order to avoid shifting into negative behaviors.
  • Call it out – It’s OK to tell on yourself and let others know that that thing they love about you is taking a turn for the worse. If you’re in a situation where you feel that your usual focused, involved way of interacting is becoming too intense, let people know how you are feeling and what is causing you the shift. We all have an “evil twin.” Just warn people when she rears her ugly head.
  • Go easy on yourself – We are human and we are all works in progress. Don’t fall into the trap of beating yourself up, doubting yourself, or feeling guilty about your behavior. When you decide to change your behavior and do something differently, it takes practice and patience to find the approach that works for you. You may have the best intentions to keep your strength an asset not a liability, but you may slip back into less-than-effective behaviors every once in awhile. Notice it, apologize if need be, and keep at it.

Which of your strengths can turn into liabilities?
Please leave a comment and let us know how you manage through it.

If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.

To keep your strengths your best assets, contact Robyn at rmcleod@chatsworthconsulting.com.

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