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How Leaders Can Do More Than “Play To Their Strengths”

While “playing to your strengths” is usually a good strategy to follow, it can sometimes be a misnomer when it comes to effective leadership.
How Leaders Can Do More Than "Play To Their Strengths"

When leaders only play to their strengths, they may forget to address other areas where they may be lacking. This, in turn, can lead to overinflated egos and unmet company needs, among other issues.

As a leader, it’s important to not only focus on your strengths but also work on becoming a more well-rounded executive or manager by striving for continuous improvement. Below, members of Forbes Coaches Council explore what leaders can do to get the most out of themselves and their teams by leveraging everyone’s strengths.

1. Play To Both Your Strengths And Your Weaknesses

Playing to your strengths is a powerful notion that helps you focus on what you are the best and most efficient at doing. However, if we are not careful, it is easy to get carried away and become arrogant about it. Awareness of your strengths is also an opportunity to know your weaknesses, be authentic about them and staff your company around them. This way, you create a team that completes each other in talents and skills.

2. Seek Out Challenges To Grow

You don’t get to be the leader you want to be; you have to be the leader your people need. Leaders don’t get to choose to play to their strengths or avoid their weaknesses—they must read, adapt and respond to the challenges they face. Leaders need to grow and develop to face their evolving world. For most of us, that means gaining strength through experience and by learning what you don’t know.

3. Balance Your Strengths And Weaknesses

Like anything that is effective in life, leadership requires balance. When you just play to your strengths, you miss the blind spots that we all have. Just playing to your strengths will mean that you miss the things you do that annoy others, and it could also lead to overconfidence and egotism. Too much of one without the other is dangerous; mix strengths and weaknesses for balance.

4. Broaden Your Skills Beyond Your Strengths

Leaders are looked to in every kind of situation—even those who do not play to their strengths—and must know how to find answers for their teams. While leaders should leverage their strengths, they need to broaden their skills beyond that. The best leaders understand their weaknesses, improve on them and build a network of support through mentors, leaving them wiser than before.

5. Understand Your And Your Team’s Weaknesses

Awareness of one’s strengths is a better mindset. With increased awareness of what they are good at, what gives them energy and what drains them, leaders have a better sense of how to build high-performing teams. Leaders can be purposeful to build teams that complement them and one another.


6. Don’t Assume Your Weaker Qualities Are Not Important

Leveraging your strengths to perform better in your leadership role is a sound strategy. The misnomer comes in when you assume that your weaker qualities are not important. For example, if you’re a big-picture thinker, diving into the details may not be your preference. But if you’re able to hone your capabilities and lean into this area when needed, it will enhance your leadership agility.


7. Don’t Mistake Weaknesses For Strengths


There are two potential traps here. One is to think that something is a strength when, in fact, it is a weakness—for example, a leader might think they are a decisive self-starter when, in fact, they never listen to others’ feedback and it is decreasing engagement. The other is to focus on something just because they are good at it. If you loathe doing something, even if you’re good at it, it’s not a strength.


8. Make Space For New Styles, Approaches And Behaviors

Playing to your strengths implies that you are only focusing on what you are already good at instead of pushing yourself to improve and grow. We all have default styles and behaviors, which we use unconsciously. Sometimes, you have to unlearn what you’re strong at to make space for new styles, approaches and behaviors. What got you where you are today isn’t always what is going to take you further.


9. Take A Holistic Approach To Development

Leaders should not only “play to their strengths” but also acknowledge and work to address their weaknesses by continuously improving and developing their skills and abilities. Taking a holistic approach to development can help leaders to become more well-rounded and effective. – Cristian Hofmann, Empowering Executives | SUPERGROUP LTD


10. Build Deep Self-Awareness Of Your Strengths

Before “playing to their strengths,” leaders need to make sure they don’t skip the essential prerequisite: becoming deeply self-aware of what those strengths are. The more you truly know where your “fast lane” is, the more you can stay in your lane and surround yourself with people and processes that complement those areas. That’s the path to being an authentic, high-performing and followable leader.


11. Refresh Your Energy After Doing Tasks In Weak Areas

Playing to your strengths is about where you get your energy. However, we are all a blend of strengths and opportunities, and sometimes we have to live in those areas that are not considered strengths to move things forward. It’s about how you refresh your energy that matters. What do you do to rest and rejuvenate after a task that may not be in your area of strength?


12. Facilitate Job Crafting For All Team Members

When I play, I have fun; when I feel strong, I am engaged. Leaders must share clear objectives and directions. Then, they can encourage individuals to identify their strengths and preferred behaviors and facilitate job crafting to help all team members craft their jobs. For teams to continually develop their skills, job resources and demands must be managed to create a lifelong learning culture.


13. Highlight Strengths And Strengthen Weaknesses

Leaders must always acknowledge their innate strengths but focus on developing their weaknesses or areas of opportunity. It’s human nature (and comfortable) to stick with what we are good at—or even great at—but far too often, the overuse of those strengths can be blinding and derail success and performance. Instead, highlight your strengths and seek to strengthen your weaknesses.


14. Work Outside Of Your Comfort Zone

There is a common misconception that to be an effective leader, you need to play to your strengths as much as possible. However, this idea can actually be somewhat misleading. In reality, effective leaders must be able to work outside of their comfort zone and adapt their skill set based on the situation at hand.


15. Determine Your Team’s Strengths

Leaders must know how to use the strengths of the people on their team to get the best skills and abilities out of them and achieve maximum performance. They must strike a balance between seeking the happiness of their employees and maximizing their contribution to the organization.

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