when strengths become weaknesses

June 9, 2008 at 8:03 pm | Posted in Professional Development | 2 Comments

I had a comment asking me to expound on something I wrote here, which is that a person’s weaknesses are often their strengths taken to an extreme. I have had direct experience with this maxim on both sides of the coin: finding out it was true in me personally, and having to deal with it in other people.

About eight years ago I had a cousin who cared about me enough to tell me: “Hey, you know what? You’re really, really mean.  Seriously.” He told me that my competitive personality was turning me into a jerk because I had to win at everything, all the time, and humiliate others as much as possible in the process.  But oddly enough, most of the compliments and praise I received at work were along the lines of “Takes charge naturally. Not afraid to take on difficult challenges. Extremely driven to succeed.” Because I was hearing those compliments and succeeding at work, I had never thought about toning them down.  Those things were my strengths, but they were taken to an extreme that made them weaknesses in interpersonal relationships.  Eventually that would have caught up with me in my professional life as I tried to advance my career.  I guarantee it.

The other place I’ve experienced this was in coaching high school kids. I saw a lot of the personality aspect I describe above, but it goes even deeper than that (or shallower, depending on how you look at it). I was just talking the other day about a former running back I had who was an extremely tough kid. He never went down easily. He was a horse with the ball. But because of that toughness, he wouldn’t protect himself when he ran. He would run straight up and down which gives defenders some real kill shots on your knees and thighs. But because he was so tough, he never considered tweaking his style to help avoid some of those blows. His toughness, taken to an extreme, ultimately became his weakness as he suffered a season-ending broken leg his senior year.

It takes a lot of self awareness to hear that your strength may also be a weakness.  But if you’re willing to work on it, your strengths will only get stronger and you can save yourself some pain along the way.

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