Susan (not her real name) prides herself on her intellect. She is a quick study. She also prides herself on “keeping it together” and “never letting them see her sweat” (a la the deodorant commercial). She knows that people view her as smart and steady, which are great leadership qualities — qualities that surprisingly can have two big downsides when not kept in check.

Let’s look at intellect first. Again, it is really important to advance leaders who are smart, who can draw on their knowledge and experience, and who can quickly and easily digest lots of data and understand complex concepts. However, if your smarts lead you to believe you are the smartest person in the room, then your intellect will get in the way of hearing and seeing the possibility of others’ ideas and viewpoints. In Susan’s case, while she sees herself as someone who knows a lot, has a sharp mind, and brings a lot of experience to her role, others see her as being so locked into knowing what she knows that she is often unwilling to consider that her idea or opinion may be flawed. People find her difficult to work with and feel that she is not able to see that others may also have great ideas that can work just as well if not better than her own.

And what about the quality of “keeping it all together?” That is a great leadership characteristic also. No one wants to follow a leader who is emotionally unhinged or erratic in their mood. However, you don’t want to be so “together” that you appear devoid of emotion, empathy, and connection, or so buttoned-up that you come off as too rigid. Susan liked that people saw her as unflappable and steady. However, she didn’t know that people nicknamed her “The Ice Queen” – frosty in her interactions and hard to get to know.

Fortunately for Susan she received 360-degree feedback that shed light on how others perceived her. What clients often hear in their 360-degree feedback is that the very things that people see as tremendous strengths can also, when taken too far or displayed under stress, be weaknesses. To address the feedback, Susan did a few key things. She:

  • Regularly sought out other viewpoints and asked others for their ideas
  • Resisted the tendency to jump in and answer the question, state her opinion, or offer her idea first in meetings
  • Challenged her assumptions about views that differed from her own
  • Looked for opportunities to let others run with their ideas, even if she disagreed with the approach
  • Carved out time for more one-on-one time with colleagues she didn’t know
  • Shared more about some of the challenges she faced and obstacles she had to overcome
  • Made an effort to slow down a bit and have more informal interactions with others
  • Stepped away from her desk and walked around the office more

Being smart and a calm and steady force are great leadership traits. Being more aware of when you may be relying on those strengths too much and having them work against you will prevent them from getting in your way.

What strengths are getting in your way?
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