Too Much of a Good Thing

By Yvonne Milosevic

If asked to name some of your core strengths, would attributes like these make the list?

  • Driven
  • Direct
  • Easygoing
  • Detail-oriented
  • Cooperative
  • Inquisitive

Now, what if we told you an over-reliance on your strengths can create major blind spots that limit your career prospects. Taken to the extreme, each of those qualities above can turn into a weakness. To illustrate:

An ultra driven person might steamroller over others. If you’re too direct, you appear insensitive. Too easygoing, and people take advantage of you. When you’re hyper-focused on details, you can become a control freak. Overly cooperative people may just be avoiding conflict at all costs. If you’re too inquisitive, you can come off as nosy AF. Crazy, right?

Or, another common phenomenon is engaging the same strength approach to every problem, without considering whether it’s the most appropriate tool for the job. In fact, “There’s a growing body of evidence suggesting that success doesn’t come from playing to your strengths. It comes from playing your strengths in the right situations,” writes Adam Grant for The New York Times.

Harvard Business Review also highlights the dangers of “lopsided leadership” that arise from overdoing your strengths.  “Once you overplay a strength, you’re at risk of diminished capacity on the opposite pole,” the authors point out.

“For example, a leader who is good at getting people involved in decisions, and has been encouraged to build on that strength, may not realize that in engaging so many others he is taking too long to move into action.”

As you can see, more is not always better. Time for a reality check to find out if you’re taking a strength too far.

Do your own 360 review.

If you aren’t 100 percent sure about what your strengths are, consider taking a fun, evidence-based personality assessment like one of these offered by the University of Pennsylvania. Then, write down your list of core strengths. Once you have it, describe or define what each looks like at both appropriate and excessive levels.

Next, ask yourself: What should I do more of, or less? On which strengths have I hit the Goldilocks-level sweet spot?

Unfortunately, many of us have trouble seeing our strengths as anything but positive. That’s when you need to enlist help from trusted friends, colleagues, or family, who can provide an unflinching assessment.  Ask them to name your three best characteristics. Next, see if they can come up with at least one way you could become an even more awesome friend/coworker/family member. With their help, you can identify specific behaviors ripe for change or improvement.

Don’t get stuck honing only strengths.

Too often, people focus exclusively on building up their strengths. They forget to seek out new experiences that would help them grow in their careers by bulking up in other areas. If you care about professional and personal development, try to put yourself in challenging situations. Learn to embrace change. Shore up your skills in areas you currently consider weak.

As Grant points out, “Strengths are like muscles: If you focus only on your triceps, your biceps will suffer.”

Now’s the time to do a thorough self-assessment to determine whether you might be overworking one of your strengths. The insights you glean can help you curb sabotaging behaviors that might otherwise harm your career.