leadership strength

Toby is struggling to understand why his boss is now unhappy with job performance that once made him happy.

Toby’s employer experienced significant change in the last 18 months including new ownership, new management team, and all new systems. The new owners also want a different style of leadership, one that’s inclusive and flexible.

Toby has worked for the company for 15 years and describes himself as a “get it done” guy. To Toby, his yearend performance review was a disaster. His boss told him future promotions were unlikely because he is too competitive, too logical, too critical, and too focused on results and tradition.

His takeaway from his boss’s feedback? To start looking for a job.

Toby reached out to Aaron, a former colleague, and asked for advice. He was surprised by the advice Aaron gave him. Aaron told him to quit looking for a job and get busy living up to the possibility in what his boss had told him. Say what?

Aaron pointed out that Toby’s boss had used the word too in describing Toby’s performance. The boss hadn’t said that being logical or results-oriented, etc. wasn’t wrong, just that Toby was too logical, too results-oriented, etc. The boss hadn’t said those weren’t the right things to be. He said Toby was just too much of them.

Toby had over-used his strengths and turned them into weaknesses. To get back on track, all he needed to do was take a more balanced approach to leading himself and his team.


5 things for Toby to do to keep his strength a strength


When we’re good at something, it’s easy to overuse a skill. Almost any skill that’s overused become a weakness. Toby can “dial back” his preferences to be the inclusive and flexible leader his employer needs him to be. Toby can:

  • Compete externally and collaborate internally.

Toby likes to win. In his zeal to be first or best, he forgets that his colleagues and employees are on the same team and often treats them like adversaries. Toby can channel his competitiveness by learning to work with, not against, his co-workers and team so together they all can compete externally.

  • Use curiosity to temper his tendency to be overly critical and judgmental.

In these days when it seems more acceptable to loudly proclaim I’m right and you’re wrong, curiosity has fallen into disuse. Sameness is comfortable and quick, which causes leaders to miss the power and magic in differences of thought, opinion, perspective, and experience.

As many managers do, Toby relies heavily on his experience to quickly make decisions and formulate strategies. He can use a travel trip to learn to be a better leader. Experienced travelers know that there are usually many routes leading to a destination. Someone who opts to take a back roads route still reaches their destination.

To be less critical, Toby can seek to understand by asking questions before acting and judging. Curiosity is a handy tool for expanding comfort zones, controlling bias, and building collaboration (something that can help him with his too competitive thing—people’s input can be melded with what he knows to fashion win/win outcomes).

  • Seek to improve both economics and engagement.

Toby is a numbers guy. Nothing wrong with that. Where Toby goes wrong, though, in pushing for results is in forgetting that it’s people who make the results happen. Without strong connections that make people feel valued and recognized, workplaces have unhappy employees and lackluster performance. However, when bosses choose to build authentic, caring connections and value both money and meaning, both results and relationships, employees are engaged, performance is strong, and everyone wins.

  • Maintain the best of the old while embracing innovation.

Aware of Toby’s strong preference for what has always been, his boss encouraged him to envision a tree when he’s faced with something new that triggers his skepticism and resistance. A tree has roots, his boss said, to give it stability and help it stand strong. But the tree grows and takes in the sun because of its new branches and leaves. A tree that fails to grow new branches will be stunted and may become root-bound and die. New growth rooted in tradition, the boss said, is what makes all of us grow and be better. Toby can choose to learn how to take in the new while holding on to traditions and values.

  • Lead with both a logical mind and an emotional heart.

A line that Toby frequently uses with his team and others is “just give me the facts.” Facts, data, and logic are good, however, they’re not always enough to persuade people to act. That takes emotion. Aaron suggested he lead with his heart and manage with his head, so he can better connect with those around him. Toby can learn to make kindness, compassion, and respect part of his routine leadership practices just as he does with logic, competition, and focusing on the bottom line.

The seat of knowledge is in the head, of wisdom, in the heart. ~William Hazlitt, philosopher and essayist

Over-reliance on a strength isn’t uncommon. Who doesn’t want to showcase what they do well? The tricky part of being an effective leader is getting past the blind spot created when a strength has turned into a weakness. Toby is fortunate to have people in his corner who are willing to coach him in finding a “Goldilocks’ just right” balance.

To receive a better performance review next time (and maybe a promotion), Toby doesn’t have to learn a new skill—all he needs to do is refine and recalibrate the skills he already has.

Image credit before quote: Pixabay