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


Human beings are very interesting creatures.  We are all so vastly different and complex in our personalities, characteristics and mannerisms.  Every one of us is born with inherent strengths and positive personality characteristics.  You can already 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 and it is a big part of how they socialize and cope with things.  More often than not, this is a good thing.  It can also prove to be problematic if it goes too far because every strength does have 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 and miss important bits of information.  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 flip side of our strengths is our weaknesses.  Unfortunately, just like our strengths they are somewhat 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 (sometimes to their detriment).   Individuals who struggle with details will try to avoid details altogether and make basic mistakes because they couldn’t be bothered or defer responsibility just to get it whatever it is, done.  Type “A” people will push themselves too hard and are often on the verge of physical and emotional burnout if they are not careful. Moreover, they can be very difficult to spend time with as the initial excitement and energy wears thin.

Bottom line is that we all have assets and liabilities as individuals.  There is a school of thought that given this we should focus just on what we are good at (leveraging the assets) and minimize everything else.   I believe this mindset has the danger of being short-sighted and self-limiting.  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 aren’t 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 vulnerability if they are to be successfully navigated.

I encourage you to make an exhaustive list of both your strengths and weaknesses. The next step would be to rank order these items in terms of the top 5-7 in each category.  I would then validate this list with the people closest to you.  Once you have this list finalized, then 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 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?  Once you’ve waded through this pool of self-reflection then institute subtle changes in your actions and response to situations that will begin make a positive difference.

The goal for any human being should be to maximize our individual value and contribution to our fellow human beings, especially to those closest to us.   You are either adding or subtracting value on a daily basis.   We commonly do this through leveraging our strengths and managing our weaknesses.  We are all born with much in common, but there is also much that makes us different.  To paraphrase Popeye, “we are what we are,” but the story doesn’t have to end that way.   Real growth requires understanding that there are both shadows and shields to our behaviors and 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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