“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”
“What got you here won’t get you there.”
These familiar adages refer to the fact that we must develop, evolve, and broaden our approach; otherwise, we are not going to get the results or have the relationships we want.
In my business practice, I spend a lot of time working with teams and individuals in how to improve their “EQ” or relationship skills. Leaders at all levels must be able to engage, motivate, and inspire.
To be effective at relating, you must first understand yourself – i.e., your motivations and tendencies – and then become aware and knowledgeable in the needs and behaviours of others.
Most of all, you need to be able to adjust your approach in a way that integrates the motivations of others, so that goals are achieved. In effect, your solution or approach must be seen as balanced and appropriate by those whom you are trying to influence or relate to.
Robert Kaplan and Robert Kaiser, highly regarded leadership experts, illustrate the need for balance in their 2009 article entitled “Stop Overdoing Your Strengths” (HBR, February 2009).
They point out that people like to engage in behaviours that they see as their strengths and eschew behaviours that are less comfortable. This can lead to “lopsidedness” and less than desired results.
Kaplan and Kaiser point out that many strengths are “opposites” of other strengths, thereby creating a polarity (connectedness). For example, ‘sociable’ and ‘reserved’ can both be strengths if used appropriately. However, being too sociable likely detracts from being effectively reserved. Similarly, being too reserved detracts from being effectively sociable.
Here are three (3) ways you can use your strengths effectively:
1. Think “volume control.” If you have a music system at home, you likely prefer to play your music loud enough to be enjoyed but soft enough so it doesn’t become disruptive or hurt the ears.
In a similar way, consider which strengths you might overuse or “play too loud”. Are there situations where an overused strength needs to be “toned down” or perhaps a different strength should be used? One way to assess your “volume control” is to get feedback from a trusted colleague or mentor and ask whether you tend to overdo certain tendencies that ultimately detract from your effectiveness.
2. Recognize natural complements (polarities) and find a proper balance. Earlier, I noted that ‘sociable’ and ‘reserved’ are connected. Many strengths can be paired in the sense that “overdoing” one strength can detract from the effectiveness of the other strength, and vice versa. We call these polarities.
Other strengths that act like polarities include: decisive and consensus-oriented; cautious and trusting; helpful and assertive; analytical and quick to act. Think about your “go-to” strengths; i.e. strengths you value and enjoy using regularly. Do any of these strengths have a polar opposite in that by using the favoured strength, you are diminishing the use of its natural complement strength?
For example, someone who is too analytical may be viewed as lacking urgency when quick action is needed. Someone who is too trusting may be seen as gullible and not demonstrating appropriate caution in some situations.
Key to relationship effectiveness is good self-awareness. Ask yourself (or get feedback from others) on three related questions:
(i) Which strengths do you use frequently?
(i) Which strengths do you rarely use?
The key question then becomes:
(iii) does your use of any favoured strengths restrict the use of other “complement” strengths that are valued by others or needed in the situation?
3. Practice using “less-preferred” strengths that would give you more balance…and better results! Sometimes, we have to consciously avoid falling back on familiar strengths (behaviours) and instead, practice using less comfortable, yet important, strengths that are valued or needed by others.
Eventually your strengths competency – i.e., your ability to demonstrate strengths that were previously not part of your repertoire – will increase and others will appreciate the balanced approach you are demonstrating.
Here are some ways to become more effective in using underdeveloped strengths:
Partner with colleagues and mentors who are already effective or highly competent in the strengths you want to develop. For example, if you lack confidence when presenting, present at a meeting with a colleague who is already effective in this strength, and can give you valuable feedback.
Try out new behaviours (strengths) in “safe” settings. If your goal is more confidently assertive, try out this behaviour with a person who is going to be empathetic to your efforts and has your best interests at heart. Avoid choosing a highly stressful or critically important situation (e.g., giving bad news to a key customer) to develop this strength. Eventually you will become confident in using new strengths in a variety of situations, but initially seek out safer workplace or personal situations to enhance your skill.
The most accomplished leaders see their development as a journey and are open to adjusting and broadening their approach so that others see the bigger picture and “what’s in it for them”.
Good leaders are made not born. We can all become more effective in our strengths deployment. Identify one or two strengths you would like to use more, or useless, and then go about practicing. Make a conscious effort to broaden your approach – i.e., practice using less comfortable strengths that are valued by others or needed in the situation.
Soon, you’ll be the consummate professional!
Robert Harris is President of Robert Harris Resources Inc.