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How you tame the dark sides of your strengths: The “What do you think?” Leader

It’s a paradox – the more powerful your strengths, the less effective you are. So, watch out for your overdone strengths as they may do harm to others – and finally harm you. In our first article on leadership styles and potential derailers, we focused on the „Do as I do!“ Leader. But what about the „What do you think?“ Leader? This leadership style seems to fit and prepare you perfectly for the next generation c-suite – as this is much more purpose-driven, non-authoritative and collaboration-focused than in the past. And yet, the “What do you think?” Leader has to watch out for fatal flaws as well. Here are your 5 easy steps to uncover and tame your super strengths that may turn into weaknesses.

The challenges of our strengths being too strong

Observe yourself: Are you ambitious while acting as an empathic teamplayer? Are you integrating, empowering, trusting? Motivating, affirmative, appreciating? Do you recognize yourself? Welcome, you are a „What do you think?“ Leader! And your assets fit into the transformation of leadership culture that everyone observes today. Heroic leadership is in decline and will finally disappear with the rise of a new generation of leaders: the millenials. The current trend towards agile working modes and non-hierarchic, fluid structures in organisations feeds into the strengthening of the „What do you think?“ Leader.

And yet, we have to pour water into wine: Just as the “Do as I do!” Leader, the „What do you think?“ leadership style comes with a cost. The strengths of any leader – when overdone – can easily turn into fatal flaws, with negative effects on others. Buddhists describe these weaknesses that are born out of exaggerated strengths as the “near enemies” of the respective strengths. They are just around the corner! So, you have to manage your strenghts productively – to not let them flip into weaknesses affecting others.

Leading is difficult. Under stress, the challenges kick us off course. The “Do as I do!” Leader – under stress – typically takes over. As a “What do you think?” Leader you may be tempted to withdraw: You sense that you are losing traction – decisions and implementation are delayed. You may lose focus. You have to make yourself familiar with the fact that your super strengths can do harm – to your effectiveness as a leader.

Be aware of your strengths turning into fatal flaws

As a “What do you think?” Leader, watch out for your strenghts that may turn into derailers if overtuned. This is when…

  • … your integrating teamplay and win-win-focus may turn into lengthy discussions, delaying clear decisions
  • … your trusting empowerment my refrain you from challenging others for the best results
  • … your appreciative style hinders you to express expectations clearly, giving constructive feedback
  • … your empathy may limit you in managing discipline and consequences thouroughly.

The effect of these derailers may be perceived by others as a laissez-faire style, too agreeable and tolerant, avoiding necessary productive conflict, giving in too easily to dominant colleagues. People may be irritated as you do not take clear position and give guidance when needed. We remember a CEO, performing a “What do you think?” style in his team, being confronted by his mostly dominant team members as being too inactive, passive, tolerant. As a result, patience with the CEO`s style decreased and dissatisfaction within the team increased. You could grab the tension in the team with your hands.

You do NOT recognize yourself? NO? You are no „What do you think?“ Leader? Then click below to read our article focusing on strengths and fatal flaws of the „Do as I do!“ Leader. Maybe that`s your turn.

The „out of comfort zone“ is the only place to grow as a leader

Great leaders know they have to constantly learn to improve. We all are familiar with the quote from John F. Kennedy: “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other”. And he hits the point: Great leaders make self-improvement a regular practice in their daily work. Try these 5 steps to keep yourself in a learning loop as a “What do you think?” Leader. See if this works for you and integrate it into your routines:

1. Identify your super strengths and their potential derailers:

To improve, you need to know what needs improvement. List your 3 core strengths and derive potential derailers. Maybe the list above provides you with first ideas. Notice how you behave – and how your team members or peers react. What behaviour made you effective in a specific situation, which not? As you are empathic, able to “read between the lines”, it will be easy for you to identify honestly which behaviour to keep and which to leave behind.

2. Team up for feedback with a trusted colleague:

As a „What do you think?“ Leader you are used to ask and work with feedback. You appreciate and have a deep interest in the perceptions of others. It will be natural to you to find a trusted colleague to give you feedback, maybe a long-standing team member or a new peer with a fresh view.

3. Step „on the balcony“ and “read the room”:

Reflect while act, that means you have to multitask in the situation. As a leader you are used to it. So, you can easily do this as well. While acting, reach out to what happens around you. You can see a lot: body language, posture, facial expressions, quick glances, twisting eyes, who talks, who does not…? You can rely on your senses and inutition to feel the impact of your behaviour in the room. Just work with these strengths actively!

4. Experiment with yourself:

Stepping out of your comfort zone and make yourself vulnerable is the most rapid path to your development. We worked with a CEO and his team who always took the lead, taking and giving feedback, showing his human side of strengths and doubts. It served as an accelerator of trust and personal bonding within the team – and it lowered rapidly the typical transaction costs of non-trust. And yet, to lead a team effectively you have to be visible, state your position and enhance decision making. To experiment with the right balance is your challenge. You simply have to keep in mind one rule: If you stay in your cozy shelter you – and your team – won`t develop.

5. Start now and keep yourself in the feedback loop:

The best leaders understand the power of consistently working towards a goal. If you commit to one daily practice, you will get a little closer to where you want to go. Sounds easy? You know, it is not. There will be moments of success and joy – and there will be set-backs. But here are the good news: As a “What do you think?” Leader you have the openness to feedback and the seismographic sensitivity to read the dynamics in your team. This capability is your biggest asset! You just have to fine-tune your behaviours most effectively.

Boost the Conscious Leader inside you: I trust that you are highly aware of the dynamics around you and anticipate the human dimensions of leadership – that´s what brought you where you are today! As you enjoy the biggest leadership asset already as a gift – self-awareness and awareness of others – you simply have to role-model the discipline to continuously self-develop. With this you can set the tone for your team and a whole organisation: It is your “shadow of the leader” taking the challenge of disciplined self-growth that will make the difference!

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Dr. Kai W. Dierke + Dr. Anke Houben

Top Management Coaches, Authors and Adjunct Professors of Leadership

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