Most leaders are unaware of their greatest performance risks

People who drive rely not just on their eyes, but also on the vehicle’s mirrors to aid their awareness of risks including nearby vehicles, pedestrians and other dangers in order to avoid accidents. But what if your greatest performance risks as a leader are outside your current field of awareness?

When your greatest strengths are overdone or used in the wrong way, they can lead to negative unintended consequences and undermine performance and relationships. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that research shows that overdone strengths are a greater source of performance problems for managers and leaders than shortfalls in skills and competence.

So what are the main risk factors and how can you prevent these from undermining your performance and career:

First, learn to challenge habits and adapt them if necessary

Most people develop deeply ingrained ways of handling tasks and decisions based on what’s worked for them in the past. These habits often form over many years and are very difficult to change. For example, a newly promoted engineering manager might continue to be highly detail focused and critical in the way they approach their new management role. Although these strengths might have worked very well in their role as a technical expert, using these strengths too much is likely to come across as micro-managing and negative to their new team members, resulting in a demotivated and disempowered team.

You can avoid this risk by ensuring ongoing self-improvement and learning new ways of using your natural strengths in different roles and situations. Inviting regular feedback from a broad range of co-workers on how effective your strengths and behaviours are viewed by others will help you understand how well you are using your strengths. Through learning to better monitor your strengths ‘gauge’ across different situations and practising the art of dialing back on strengths that are over-used, you can minimize the risk of overdrive behaviours showing up.

Second, be aware of how you respond under stress and pressure

Stress and pressure often amplify overdrive behaviours. For example, if a highly determined manager becomes too stubborn and inflexible in the way they negotiate an important business deal, they could undermine the deal and damage relationships in the process.

Good awareness of what happens to your strength/s in times of stress and pressure is key. Once overdrive behaviours are understood, it is important to take appropriate action to minimize the risks of overdrive, including replacing negative, deeply ingrained stress responses with more positive, rational behaviours.

Guarding against excesses almost always starts with good awareness. But I’ve found through working with literally thousands of managers and leaders, that very few, only around 5%, understand what happens to their performance when their strengths go into overdrive. We always recommend that a great starting point is to take an accurate strengths profiler like Strengthscope®. As well as giving you more insight into how you can build on your areas of greatest strength to improve your performance, Strengthscope® will help you avoid the biggest risks you are likely to face in your career, your overdone strengths.

About the Author

James Brook
Leadership Consultant | Executive Coach | Business Psychologist

James has over 25 years’ experience working with leaders and organizations internationally to optimize their performance, talent and future success. He has worked with leaders from diverse sectors, countries and cultures. Clients have included Commvault, Equinor, Gilead Sciences, GSK, PhotoBox, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, Novo Nordisk, Oracle, Sainsbury’s, Swiss Re, Tesco, Yahoo! and WSP.

James has set-up and successfully grown several of his own businesses, including Strengthscope®, a global strengths assessment and consulting business. As Joint Founder and MD, he grew Strengthscope® into a market leader before selling his stake in the business in 2018.

James is a regular speaker on leadership, coaching, assessing and developing talent and the future of work. He has contributed a wide range of publications in these areas. His most recent book, Optimize Your Strengths, explores how leaders can transform their organizations by inspiring people to shine and deliver exceptional results.

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