When Our Strengths Are Not Strengths

Here is this month’s piece from Brand Velocity, an Atlanta-based consulting firm that is putting Peter Drucker’s ideas into practice at major corporations.

In personal and organizational settings, Peter Drucker advised us to build upon our strengths. What my colleagues and I have learned over the past decade, working with many different kinds of organizations, is that there is also an underlying and important sequence to best activate these strengths.

Recently I met with a visionary CEO whose organization had grown 60-fold in the past 20 years. He explained that he was at his best when helping his colleagues co-create where they needed to go and why. However, he wasn’t as strong when it came to planning projects and executing on the details. In fact, in these situations, he believed that his strengths actually became barriers to the success of the teams working in those areas.

This insight is something we can all learn from.

With clients we have observed four distinct families of strengths:

Visualizers: People with strong creative skills are often wonderful at thinking outside the box, and teams benefit greatly from their strengths in areas such as marketing and strategy. But their strength often turns into weakness when they get too deeply involved with building processes and systems.

Prioritizers: Numerical and highly structured thinkers are often very effective in areas such as accounting and planning. But this strength can become a weakness when applied to less structured areas such as coaching, conflict resolution and dynamic selling.

Organizers: Some people thrive when it comes to manufacturing and project management. Yet this strength doesn’t necessarily help—and may hinder—when a team is working on a challenge that requires more unstructured thinking.

Energizers: Managers who are really good at inspiring other people are indispensible to most any operation. They display great strength in winning over customers, coaching employees and motivating teams. Yet often, the key to their strength is spontaneity, which is not a strength at all if the task at hand requires painstaking planning.

“Strong people always have strong weaknesses too,” Drucker wrote. “Where there are peaks there are valleys.”

When you’re at work, it’s crucial to always be aware of the terrain you’re on—or even your strengths may become counterproductive.

Jack Bergstrand is the founder of Brand Velocity, author of Reinvent Your Enterprise and creator of the Strategic Profiling tool and Action Planning process. He can be reached at jb@brandvelocity.com.