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Leadership Thought #243 – Every Strength Has A Shadow, Every Weakness Has A Shield

November 8, 2011

Free Man Wearing Gray and Red Armour Standing on the Streets Stock Photo

As a rule, in most situations, play to your strength and manage your weaknesses.

Human beings are interesting creatures.  We are all different and complex in our personalities, characteristics, and mannerisms, and yet, also remarkably similar in terms of biology.  We all have unique strengths and weaknesses.  The emotional trigger for one person can leave minimal or no impact on someone else.   Some of us will exercise and eat right but still die young, while others will consistently have unhealthy habits and live a long time.  Life is a mystery.

Every one of us is born with inherent strengths and positive personality characteristics.  You can even see this in newborns and young children.  My two kids couldn’t be more different.  Each of them will default to these strengths on a regular basis. It is a big part of how they socialize and cope with things.  Often, this is a good thing.  Nevertheless, it can also prove to be problematic if it is overutilized because every strength casts a shadow.

People can be “too much” of something.  For example, you can be too empathetic and spend all your time worrying about others.  You can be too verbal and not spend enough time listening.  Being calm is good but being too calm can get boring and limit your emotional connection with others.  You can be too confident and come off as arrogant.   Too much of anything is never a good thing.

The other side of our strengths is our weaknesses.  Unfortunately, just like our strengths, they are hard wired.   We all have obstacles to overcome about who we are, how we handle things, and our view of the world.  Over time, we build up shields to protect us from these weaknesses.   Shy people will regularly avoid being the center of attention even when it is to their detriment.   Individuals who struggle with details will try to avoid details altogether and make basic mistakes because they missed something important.  Type “A” people will push themselves too hard even to the point of physical and emotional burnout if they are not careful.

Bottom line is that we all have assets and liabilities as individuals.  One school of thought says we should limit our focus to only those things we are good at and minimize everything else.   This mindset is shortsighted and self-limiting.  Remember: too much of anything is never a good thing.

The only way we evolve is through learning and experience.   Personal growth happens with time as we stretch our perspectives and challenge individual conceits and preconceptions.  If we narrowly focus our growth opportunities, we are not fully living.  Weaknesses also exist and must be dealt with, not just circumvented, or fortified with self-protective behaviors. Adversity and challenge are a regular part of life and require some level of personal adaptability if they are to be successfully navigated.

I encourage you to make an exhaustive list of both your strengths and weaknesses. Then, rank order these items in terms of the top 5-7 in each category.  Validate this list with the people closest to you.  Once you have this list finalized, ask yourself how too much of a given strength may have caused some problems in your life.  Do your best to figure out how much is too much and where the shadow begins to loom.

In terms of personal weaknesses, ask yourself what protective behaviors you have built up over time to deal with these issues.   How have these shields affected the people closest to you?  Are these behaviors hindering your personal/professional growth and development?

The goal for any human being should be to maximize our positive impact on those around us, especially to those closest to us.   You are either adding or subtracting value in all your interactions.  We commonly do this through leveraging our strengths and managing our weaknesses.

Real growth requires that we understand that there are both shadows and shields in our behaviors, but that they should not loom too large or become too strong, respectively.   As always, self-awareness is the first step in the journey.

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