Emotional Intelligence

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Focusing on our Strengths – is this a good thing?

We all have strengths, right? And how often do we hear others say: focus on your strengths. Or, work to your strengths. Or, use your strengths. Isn’t this a no-brainer? And I too position myself as a strength-based leadership coach.

The next question is: do we do this? And if we do this to the exclusion of anything else, is this a good or not so good thing?

If you agree with Tony Schwartz, the President and CEO of The Energy Project [HBR: How to Become a More Well Rounded Leader – 21/7/17] he says we need to be careful about overusing or relying too exclusively on our strengths – especially if we use them in a one-dimensional way.

He also says that often we overuse our strengths under stress. Our barriers go up, we hunker down and we do whatever has worked best for us in the past. Particularly if its been rewarded! This is also called “reverting to type”.

Tony shows us what happens when we overuse our strengths – this is just a small example:

Self-control Rigidity
Confidence Arrogance
Decisiveness Dogmatism
Honesty Cruelty


Do I hear you say so what? Well…the recommendation is that we all have choices and we all have options.  And the best approach is to broaden our thinking.  Become an observer of what we do and what we don’t do and not just have “one way of doing” in our toolkit. We need to build more strengths say in the area of self-control or confidence.  We can do this through the application of the strength and the creation of “positive opposites”. Here are the examples:

Self-control Spontaneity
Confidence Humility
Decisiveness Open-mindedness
Honesty Compassion


So, don’t use self-control to the point where you stop being spontaneous. It’s great to have confidence and if you overuse it some may say you’re arrogant so being a bit humble is also a good thing. Be genuinely open-minded, curious and interested in different ways of thinking and new ideas. Being decisive is great but no one has all the answers. I know, I know…you get it.

I hope this helps you to think about what you do and how you do it to improve relationships through your interactions with others.