Why your greatest strength can also be your greatest weakness

leadership strength
It’s always the same – when you discuss your strengths, you feel validated, and when you discuss your weaknesses, you feel invalidated. We think strengths are good, and weaknesses are bad. There have been books and articles written on focusing on strengths and downplaying weaknesses, for example, “The 10 most important personality traits for career success” by Dr Tom Denham.

It’s true that certain traits work more effectively in certain circumstances than others do. If my house is on fire, I want to act with urgency and be focused in putting the fire out in the safest and most efficient way. So does that mean urgency and being focused are strengths? What about formulating a project that is highly complex involving many people with different priorities from different countries such as a multi billion dollar joint venture? Would urgency and being focused necessarily be appropriate when first formulating that project?

In my experience, it’s not the trait that is a strength or weakness, but how you apply the trait. The context in which you apply any trait determines whether it is a strength or weakness in that particular circumstance. Leadership sometimes requires collaboration and sometimes requires giving instruction, sometimes requires compassion and sometimes requires brutal honesty.

The ability to apply certain traits to certain circumstances takes a high level of self awareness and responsibility. A capacity to move beyond your comfort zone and not indiscriminately apply the same traits to all circumstances because you think it’s the trait that works. Strength comes from having the freedom to determine what trait will work and then apply it. That’s easier said than done but starts with the recognition that your greatest strength applied inappropriately, can then become your greatest weakness.

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