Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Strengths in Excess

Building and managing teams is equal parts challenging, rewarding and frustrating. It does get better with time and practice, and if you work at the skill, which it surely is, your maturity and depth will increase. A great book I have found to help me improve is, "FYI: For Your Improvement". The practical advice in this book has helped me navigate new situations as a people manager.

One of the keys to managing and motivating a large team of people is tailoring your approach based on an individual's strengths and weaknesses. As a team, we just completed "The Strengths Finder" assessment, and it was eye-opening for me to see that my strengths had morphed since I last did a self-assessment. It was also instructive to see the spread of strengths across our team; I am reading the accompanying book again to identify strategies to collaborate with my team. Speaking of strengths, one series of questions in the assessment honed in on my perspective on "strengths" and "weaknesses". The questions used words like, "maximize", "capitalize", "leverage" for strengths, and "explore", "improve upon", "fixate on", "overcome" for weaknesses. I figured this out eventually; the questions were trying to ascertain whether I was someone who maximized my strengths or worked on my weaknesses. Given the headspace in which I was residing at the time of the assessment, my responses colored me as a person who, "works on his weaknesses".

The reality is a lot more nuanced. I tend to capitalize on my strengths while being aware of my weaknesses. This balanced approach ensures that I delegate tasks that I know are not best suited for me to someone on my team who can hit them out of the park. I add training courses, reading materials and the like to my "individual development plan" so that I can overcome my weaknesses over time. Career coaches, pointing to a growing body of psychological research, are advising their clients to do the same. The mantra they are proposing, as I understand it is, "Use your strengths; work your weaknesses".

This great piece on QZ starts with the notion of, "Too much of a good thing":
This concept is referred to as strengths in excess. I see this same pattern in people at all levels, no matter their rank, industry, gender, or role. A doctor who excels at staying calm and even-keeled in high-pressure situations may also struggle to express emotion with patients who crave empathy. A landscape architect who’s highly detail-oriented will excel at her job, but may sometimes veer into counterproductive perfectionism. A marketing assistant who’s a loyal team player is admirable—but not if he puts so much value on trying to fit in that he has no boundaries, and lets other people push him around.
Hmm. Sounds like trouble to me...
Strengths in excess can lead to inflexibility. If left unchecked, we become susceptible to overconfidence or arrogance...
This can be remedied by taking the middle path between maximizing strengths and overcoming weaknesses. Self-awareness, is key:
The solution is not to fixate obsessively on our weaknesses—according to research, overly harsh self-criticism undermines motivation and can lead to procrastination. Instead, what we need to do is change our understanding of our strengths. As author and business consultant Marcus Buckingham explains in his book Now, Discover Your Strengths, “Strengths are not activities you’re good at, they’re activities that strengthen you … after you’ve done it, it seems to fulfill a need of yours.”

Put simply, it’s rewarding to do things that we find difficult. In psychology, this is called self-efficacy— and it’s the foundation of confidence.
Read more about overdoing strengths at HBR.

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