When Leadership Strengths Become Weaknesses

By Barbara Jordan

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

Any strength overused will become a weakness!

Strengths and Weaknesses

Although many people think that one behavioral style may be better than others, that simply isn’t true. All styles are necessary in a team/workplace, and each of them has strengths and weaknesses.

For instance, many of the leaders with whom I’ve worked have a strong “D” profile. To their credit, these “drivers” are bold, direct, confident, candid, assertive, competitive, productive, and independent, take-charge kind of people. Unfortunately, they often lack patience and have difficulty tolerating detail work. They can also be insensitive, impulsive, poor listeners.

One such leader, considered a very strong “D”, was burning people out all around him. If he wasn’t giving them ulcers, he was sending them to therapy!

Never reluctant to share his opinions, give unsolicited advice, and be blunt, he often alienated others. Being super goal-oriented, impatient, and decisive was great for the bottom line because he set and achieved many company goals. But, he seldom listened to others’ concerns or valued their opinions. And, this caused resentment.

No Second-Guessing

Some people have Attention Deficit Disorder; I think this leader had Empathy Deficit Disorder!

Because he was so direct, people didn’t have to second-guess what he said. Those reluctant to share their opinions admired his candor. But, his bluntness was at times hurtful. Being factual, straightforward, and no-nonsense was often appreciated by his colleagues, especially if the ideas presented were lofty.

However, his over-use of these qualities gave him the reputation as a “know-it-all”. He demonstrated excellent self-control and self-discipline. But, being too controlled led to an image of cold indifference and unwillingness to pursue exciting new opportunities.

Being skeptical of quick fixes or hype, this leader did a great job of checking things out before making decisions or taking action. After all, due diligence is a critical leadership practice, and prudence is an essential characteristic. However, taken to an extreme, it caused him to be overly suspicious and distrustful. And this, too, caused conflict and hindered organizational progress.

Leadership Strength Causing Anxiety.jpg

Anxiety and Animosity

Although challenging others may be considered a strength, this overbearing, overcritical leader relentlessly pressured employees to achieve more.

Since inferior work and half-hearted efforts frustrated him, he often set high goals for his direct reports. Although his tendency to compliment others inspired people to do their best, his unreasonably high expectations created anxiety and animosity, especially when coupled with his disregard for feelings.

Since he was never afraid to “shake things up”, he was admired by those afraid of change, conflict, or risk. Yet his reckless courage and eager ambition sometimes translated to carelessness and impulsiveness.

Brutally Criticize

Even though not taking “no” for an answer may be considered a strength when upholding expectations, this can become a weakness when done judgmentally.

For example, this particular leader brutally criticized those who didn’t meet his high standards. It was like taking a sledgehammer to a mosquito. When he controlled people and situations to force his own results, people saw him as belligerent.

This well-intentioned leader was great at holding others accountable and expecting employees to uphold quality standards to achieve desired results. He didn’t accept excuses. This is another great leadership trait. But, again, taking this trait to the extreme caused him to be overly demanding and dominating.

A rigid perfectionist, he had the tendency to over-commit others and underestimate the work needed to achieve goals. As you can imagine, the consequences included performance anxiety, dissent, and decreased productivity among his team.


My Way or the Highway

Being quick and decisive, he executed decisions with confidence and strength. He seldom allowed the opposition to deter him from achieving organizational goals. Although this determination is often necessary when making important, urgent decisions or solving critical problems, such a strong-willed, uncompromising approach was perceived as careless, self-serving, and aggressive.

It was his way or the highway. He was right, no matter what.

In fact, he often used abrupt, combative phrases like I don’t care,” and “So what.” This often led to a condescending attitude which hurt his relationships.

Getting Results

So how do I approach this leader to emphasize the point that his strengths had become weaknesses?

How do you tell an executive who successfully climbed the ranks that he was self-sabotaging and destroying morale?

Well, for starters, I acknowledged his strengths and effective leadership traits. Then, I suggested that he merely needed to scale back on those strengths he had over-used. More specifically, I emphasized the need to increase his listening skills, empathy, and patience while appreciating individual employees and recognizing their teamwork.

Leadership strengths can become weaknesses!

I wrote an article on leaders whose driver traits—their boldness, directness, competitiveness, productivity focus, and independence—show up in extremes or become overused.

I’ve worked with many of these leaders. They are the command-and-control, turn ’em-and-burn ‘em, theory X leaders.

Leadership Strengths Development Plan.jpg

Leadership Strengths Development Plan

In order to eliminate some of these “good” traits gone “bad,” we negotiate a Leadership Development plan that looks something like this:

  1. Increase cooperation, participation, and collaboration with others
  2. Learn and practice tactful communication
  3. Increase sensitivity to others
  4. Help others succeed via servant leadership
  5. Be more flexible, compromising, and accepting
  6. Understand that you need people
  7. Recognize the needs of others
  8. Pace oneself and relax more

How can you do the same in your organization?

How can you encourage your managers, supervisors, and directors to be servant leaders who are masters of motivation and influence?

Lead by Example

To begin, model it in your own interactions.

The way in which you interact with your managers, supervisors, and directors will influence the way in which they interact with their direct reports.

These interactions impact how your front-line employees treat your clients or customers.

This parallel process refers to the tendency of things to “roll down the hill”, so to speak.

If you think that this type of leadership is too passive or too “soft”, don’t believe it for a minute.

You’ll never improve your leadership if you continue to think that way. In order to become a servant leader, you must first address these negative and self-limiting thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and conclusions:

“I don’t know if I can really do this ‘Servant Leader’ stuff.”

Actually, most of the principles of servant leadership are simple concepts that have been around for centuries.

“I don’t have the time to sit and listen to these people whine or complain!”

You may be short on time, and it may be very important to you that everyone is productive.

However, it only takes a few brief moments to listen actively to your employees’ concerns. Model the same empathetic listening that you want to see in your team, and you’ll see people following your lead down the organization.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and the only way these people change is if I confront them and rail on them.”

This approach may have worked for you in the past, but it is not the best method to use long-term. It leads to dissent and breeds resentment.

Leading Change.jpg

Who Needs to Change?

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “Be the change you want to see.”

However, “being the change,” I’m referring to here is often very difficult for these dominant, take-charge type leaders. Why? According to Scott Keller, co-author of Beyond Performance: How Great Organizations Build Ultimate Competitive Advantage, they don’t see themselves as part of the problem.

Although they agree with the principle that leaders must model the desired changes, they don’t believe that they are the ones who need to change.

Most conscientious people with a strong work ethic believe they are doing the right thing. Otherwise, they would not do it. Most of us have what Keller refers to as “self-serving bias” or blind optimism about our own behavior.

Like the Clydesdale horses, we all wear “blinders,” making us think we are better than we actually are.

That is why it’s so important for leaders to have a behind-the-scenes silent partner and adviser to inform them that “their fly is open,” “their slip is showing,” or they’re about to “slip on a banana peel.”

Ready for Change

A person must first be ready, willing, and able to make a change.

By ready, willing, and able, I mean that they want the change, are able to make the change, see the reasons for making the change, recognize the need to make the change, and are committed to making that change.

In addition, completing a 360 feedback tool can help motivate the leader and build readiness to change.

So, how do I inform these high-ranking, well-accomplished, very intelligent leaders convinced that their personality contributed to their success and can’t possibly be part of the problem?

First of all, and most importantly, I ask permission to give feedback.

For example, I say:

  • “There’s something that worries me here.”
  • “Would it be all right if I shared with you how this hurts your ability to… (state their goal)?”
  • “Would you like to know what I noticed…?”
  • “Do you want to know what I would do if I were in your situation?”
  • “I could tell you some things others have done that worked…”
  • “Could I play devil’s advocate here…?”
  • “Are you open to suggestions/solutions?”
  • You mentioned you want … (state their goal). Would you like to know if there’s something that’s getting in the way…?”

Next, I preface any advice or suggestions with permission to disagree or disregard them. For example:

  • “This may or may not be important to you…”
  • “I don’t know if this will make sense to you…”
  • “You may not agree…”
  • “I don’t  know how you’ll feel about this…”
  • “Tell me what you think of this…”

Pause and Listen

Next, I pause and listen.

Allowing the person to respond, and soliciting that input, is critical to maintaining the leader’s dignity, credibility, and composure. It’s also about maintaining a spirit of self-determination, responsibility, autonomy, and control.

Lastly, I collaborate with the individual to come up with solutions.

When choosing what to do, it’s always better to offer several options rather than suggesting only one.

How Can You Prevent Your Leadership Strengths from Becoming Weaknesses?

If you have ideas about leadership strengths that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

Would you like to contribute a post?

Barbara Jordan
Barbara Jordan
Barbara is an author, speaker, and leadership coach. Sign up to receive the ezine “Success Tips for Busy Leaders” or sign up to receive a free sample chapter of Achieve Success In Spite of Stress. Connect with her via Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
  • Raul Silva says:

    Great article and insight.

    Seems like we are so caught up in today’s economy with deliverables that we forget the collateral damage caused to staff.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Amr Gaber Ahmed says:

    I like the Article , it was so intersting to me , thanks .

  • Angel Aguilar says:

    Good article, condenses and easy to read.

    While reading it I pictured in my mind all these kind of leaders I have worked with in my professional life.
    On the other hand, is important to recognize our own leadrship style and this article is a start.

  • John Awute says:

    I saw a description of myself in the article. Thank you for exposing some of these covered weaknesses.
    Good article.

  • Simon Wamono says:

    Good article. I identify with issues outlined in the article. There is nothing wrong as a leader to shake things up and send some staff to therapy occasionally. Different leadership styles work in different times. The leader must be flexible and not rigid to be able to use all the tools of leadership traits. When things get tough, autocratic and authoritative leadership style can be applied. In good times, bureaucratic and facilitative leadership styles work best.

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