An Overplayed Strength can become a Weakness | Learning & Development | Primeast

Three commonly overplayed approaches that might just be holding you back

In their seminal article in June 2009 Harvard Business Review, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman discussed their research into what they considered to be “Ten Fatal Flaws That Derail Leaders”. Their findings read like a menu of dysfunction and they summarise the article saying that a leader and their stakeholders often see that leader differently. The leader’s intention of how they will create impact manifests itself to those around them as something quite different.

Intent and impact

This last point is critical and is linked closely to much of the work Primeast has been doing over the last 30 years in the field of adult development. Through our own work developing leaders in arduous environments, to more recent interactions with thought leaders such as Bob Anderson, Bill Adams, Jennifer Garvey-Berger and Otto Scharmer, it’s apparent that there is frequently dissonance between an individual’s intent and their actual impact.

For leaders this is important as, no matter how laudable our intentions, it is how others experience them day in, day out that matters. Often the strategies and approaches you choose will have a positive effect, which encourages you to use them more frequently.

However, if you become too reliant on them, they begin to lead you. If left unchecked, they can lead you into potential danger.

Three strategies or approaches that are risk areas for leaders

  1. Being a Strong Hand on the Wheel

    Where it adds value for a leader - At its best this approach allows you to set high standards and strive for continuous improvement in a wide range of situations. Your willingness to take charge and speak your mind, if you believe things are even slightly out of control, can often make you influential too. You can deliver positive results.

    How overreliance could hold you back - It can also encourage you to be overly aggressive and show little interest in others’ opinions. Potentially you feel that by accepting their view, you are somehow weakened and you’d be less ‘in control’. Often there is a strong urge to compete. seeing things as a zero-sum, win/lose game where demanding unreasonably high standards of yourself, and others, is an attempt to control that game. Burnout beckons.

  2. Leveraging your Intellect & Knowledge

    Where it adds value for a leader - At its best this approach enables you to be objective and enhances your ability to consider wider perspectives or ways of doing things. It can help you with cutting through complexity and identifying root cause to solve problems. It provides opportunities to use your wisdom, perhaps drawn from high levels of expertise and knowledge, or an affinity with a particular school of thought.

    How overreliance could hold you back - At the core of this characteristic is the need for you to ‘protect’ yourself through your superior knowledge, critical thinking and knowing the ‘right’ answer. It may often lead you to judge others harshly in a cold, aloof, distanced way, leaving them feeling unvalued and under supported.

  3. Being part of the Gang

    Where it adds value for a leader
    - At its best this approach allows you to sense others’ needs and emotions; and to be responsive to them. You show up as a loyal, reliable colleague who is easy to get along with and who values the various rituals of your relationships. You are a nice person and a good contributor to team.

    How overreliance could hold you back - You can become subsumed by the group or those around you, as your primary driver is to fit in. Acting this way can lead you into denying your own independence, aspirations and freedom of expression. You may be plagued by self-doubt and be overly cautious in your decision-making for fear of what others might do or say about you. You can often come across as non-assertive or passive too.

Recognise any of this in yourself, or your peers? Do not panic! Primeast works with leaders at all levels to understand their inner operating system and improve their impact.

If you are interested in transforming your leadership capability, talk to us about our Leadership Circle™ Impact Programme. We have a number of accredited Leadership Circle Profile™ facilitators around the world who work with individuals and groups of leaders to uncover insights and opportunities to sharpen skills and improve leadership behaviours.

You can email Russell Evans here or call +44 (0) 1423 531083.

Further reading: 'The 5 Creative Competencies you need to Succeed' and '10 Critical Soft Skills Needed for Developing Leaders'

Visit our Prime Leadership and Scaling Talent pages for how Primeast can support you and your organisation to create outstanding leaders who are equipped to successfully lead organisations where people can thrive.

About the Author


Russell Evans

Russell Evans, Managing Director of Primeast, leads a team of around 100 core and associate consultants, facilitators and coaches based in 24 countries. A key component of Russell’s role is to work at a strategic level with Primeast’s client partners to help them develop as ‘learning organisations’.

Russell has global experience across a range of sectors, particularly in highly matrixed, often heavily regulated environments. He is passionate about supporting leaders as they embark on their leadership journey helping them develop both their 'outer game' (skills) and their 'inner game' (thinking and mindset).

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