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Beware of your leadership strengths

4 min read


When it comes to leadership, is there such thing as too much of a good thing? There sure can be. In fact, just about any weakness can be attributed to one or more strengths that are overused.

In a recent talent review meeting, the executive team was discussing the strengths and development needs of a promising up and coming leader. One of her greatest strengths was her customer focus. This was a company that placed a high value on customer service, so that strength had served her well.

However, this leader was developing a reputation for breaking too many company policies and rules, alienating or bullying other departments, being too narrowly focused, and not strategic enough. Her passion for taking care of her customers at all costs was now turning into a liability.

So yes, you can even be too customer-focused.

Here are six other common leadership strengths that when overdone can turn into leadership weaknesses:

1. The results-focused leader. This is the leader that gets things done and delivers results. The downside? They often get results at the expense of others, leaving a trail of bodies in their wake. In the worst cases, they may even cut ethical and legal corners.

2. The courageous leader. This is the leader that’s not afraid to take a stand, makes the tough decisions, and stands up for what’s right. However, when overdone, can come across as dogmatic, uncompromising and overly critical, picking too many fights and burning too many bridges.

3. The caring, compassionate leader. Yes, you can be too nice, especially when the leader can’t deal with underperformers, avoids conflicts, and can’t make tough business decisions that have a negative impact on people. They can also be taken advantage of and be seen as naïve.

4. The empowering leader. This is the leader that gives lots of room and freedom, is comfortable delegating, and takes a hands off approach to managing others. When overdone, the leader may give too much responsibility to employees that are not ready for it, and not enough direction to those that need it. They may also be seen as others as avoiding doing any work themselves.

5. The motivational leader. This is the leader that knows how to rally the troops and which buttons to push to get people energized. Could there be a downside? Only if the leader pushes people beyond their limitations, burns people out, or be seen as showing favoritism in their attempts to appeal to what motivates each individual.

6. The visionary, brilliant leader. The Steve Jobs leader. They are the brilliant strategists, masters of their domain, often the smartest person in the room, and always one or two steps ahead of everyone. However, when overdone, they may disregard the views of others, be impatient, and have difficulty relating with those that may not be as smart as them (meaning just about everyone!).

The lesson here is when strengths are overdone, they can turn into weaknesses. While it’s good to be aware of and leverage your strengths, don’t overuse your strengths to the point where they can have negative side effects. Be open to feedback and learn to “dial it back”, especially when under pressure.

Dan McCarthy is the director of Executive Development Programs at the University of New Hampshire and runs the Management & Leadership channel of He writes the award-winning leadership development blog Great Leadership and is consistently ranked as one of the top digital influencers in leadership and talent management. He’s a regular contributor to SmartBrief and a member of the SmartBrief on Workforce Advisory Board. E-mail McCarthy.

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