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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  1. About 11 years ago I woke up one morning and thought I had a bad dream. I was 28, was a Regional Manager in mortgage banking with like 60 people across the midwest reporting to me. I was making money hand over foot, drove a nice car and basically thought I could do no wrong.

    However, I realized one thing that scared me to death. I stepped on a lot of people along the way. I was mean, condescending and crushed people at will. I was so focused on yielding power that I never realized what I was doing in order to get there. In fact, I treated my wife as employee and it angered me. It sickend me.

    About a week later I resigned my position and changed my life. I realized that climbing the ladder did not mean crushing people along the way. I realized that there is more to life than work and money and power. I realized that being honest about people and giving them feedback and letting them know where you stand with them is much bette than harboring ill will and wanting to secretly get them.

    In this post, you talk about self awareness and understanding your strengths may be your weakness and I think its wonderful. I may never be a perfect person and lord knows I fall down a lot, but understanding yourself before judging or acting on instinct about others will make you a better person to be with professionally and socially.

    There is a great book out there called, This I Believe. If you can dedicate 5 minutes a day to reading the snippets in the book, it will make you look and think differently about things. Some of the authors are fascinating.

  2. I’ve not read the book, but I’ve listened to a lot of the stories from it on NPR. Most were very interesting.


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