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  • Linda R. Taliaferro

The Dangers of Overusing Your Strengths

Everyone's good at something, right? We all have our own areas of expertise where we really shine. Maybe you're very social, or you're results driven and an expert problem solver. But did you know that it's possible to overuse your strengths? An over reliance on your strengths is a liability, not an asset.

Take the trait of perfectionism, for example.

Perfectionism gets picked on a lot these days, but it's still a common trait, especially among women of color who feel they have to work much harder in order to get ahead. Perfectionism is what helps us stay focused and productive. It makes us great employees. But pushed to an extreme, that perfectionism can hold us back from taking risks, pitching an unproven but promising idea, or following a hunch.

No trait is an absolute good.

Leadership training tends to see traits in terms of strengths and weaknesses, and the idea is that you play to your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. But the result of overemphasizing the strengths and trying to cut out the weaknesses, is we lean too heavily on one skill set. Like a bench with one leg taller than the others, we’re unbalanced.

How do you know if you're overusing your skillset?

If you've spent your life striving to harness your talents, it can be hard to turn that focus down a notch. The best way to learn when you're overdoing it is to come more self-aware. Reflecting, slowing down, and thinking retrospectively can help us analyze how you’re doing.

Was that meeting really great, or were you potentially missing something?

Was that project a success, or could you have done something different?

If you’re a confident person who’s great at building consensus in meetings and getting projects done, think about the opposite version of yourself. What would they do? It’s possible that your enthusiasm is dominating a meeting and making it harder to hear from the shyer voices in the room.

Don’t be self-critical.

The process of diversifying your strengths and thinking reflectively about your performance is very different from beating yourself up about doing something “wrong.” You’re good at something, and that’s a good thing! What we’re talking about her is asking questions, considering the feelings of others, and really taking the time to be honest with ourselves.

You can seek feedback in the form of written reviews, informal meetings, or even a 360 review at work. These forms of feedback are like little interventions, prodding us to slow down and do our best work.

Your strengths are a wonderful part of your work, and growing at work means nurturing your whole self. Leaning on one strength too much just means you have the opportunity to add to other areas of your life, not that you have to dial yourself back or become less.

If you're interested in getting support and feedback on your performance, you could also consider hiring a career coach. Coaching is my bread and butter, so don't hesitate to throw a free consultation with me on your calendar.

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