Watch Out – Your Talents May Undermine You

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People tend to play to their natural strengths – and leaders are no different. Applying these inherent attributes and talents is generally done without a lot of thought – they just come so easily. Unfortunately, the ‘overplay’ of these natural strengths can lead to unintended, and often undesirable, consequences.

discussionRecently, I worked with two experienced leaders who were well respected and used their standout attributes consistently – regardless of audience or context. One leader was quite straightforward and direct with others while the other was very calm and collected in the face of intense workplace pressure. Feedback from others, through an executive feedback process, indicated that, while admirable in the majority of situations, showcasing this attribute in the same fashion, to the same degree and in all situations was not desirable or effective.

The challenge for leaders is to use their inherent attributes and talents on a sliding scale, depending on the context. Here are some suggestions to better apply your gifts in a more nuanced and targeted fashion based on the situation in which you find yourself.

1. Identify your inherent attributes and talents

Knowing your natural gifts in terms of leadership traits is an essential starting point. Reflect back on situations you’ve handled with relative ease when others have struggled. Or identify those incidents when you’ve accomplished something significant while feeling that you were in your grove and others also thought so. Consider the recognition or feedback you’ve received over time that highlighted your inherent talents. Ask trusted colleagues who know you well, and have experienced your presence as a leader, to confirm your thinking.

2. Unpack the situation you’re facing

As a first step, confirm the outcome that you want to realize during your interaction with others – be it a one-on-one conversation or group meeting. Is it deeper understanding of the opportunity or challenge by yourself and others, fuller appreciation of your perspective with the group, reaching a decision or even advancing a particular course of action? Secondly, identify the audience you’re interacting with and consider their experience with your leadership style. Do they interact regularly as a team or group or are there some newcomers? Are they familiar with your specific talents and seeking your active engagement or have they not experienced your presence previously? How much experience and/or expertise do they have in relation to the subject under discussion?

3. Decide how best to apply your natural gifts

Based on your sense of event purpose, the audience and their subject matter experience, take some time to determine how you can best apply your natural gifts. If, for example, one of your key strengths is facilitation – deliberately consider how much of ‘you’ is required to build mutual understanding, align interests, make decisions and chart a course of action. Is it throughout the interaction, conversation or meeting? Or is only when the discussion is challenging, or the group is deadlocked and can’t move forward? Is one of your team members able to step forward and assist in moving the conversation forward? It might be an excellent development opportunity for that individual, with subsequent coaching from yourself, after the discussion or meeting has concluded.

4. Practice applying your attributes and talents in variable fashion

leadership skillsetsBe deliberate in strengthening other facets of your gifts to compliment what comes naturally. If you tend to be direct, straightforward and perhaps challenging in many of your conversations and meetings, seek opportunities to instead demonstrate curiosity, ask insightful questions and probe for more details before providing your perspective or opinion. You may be surprised at how this alternative approach brings forward greater participation or even engagement from others.

5. Seek feedback on how you’re doing

As with all behavioural change, getting feedback from others is essential to gauge progress and fine-tune your approach. Consider some real-time feedback and potential coaching from a trusted colleague to ensure you’re leveraging your inherent gifts to their best advantage depending on the context and circumstances.

We all have innate strengths and talents and it makes sense to apply them regularly—but not all of the time. In order to better leverage your natural talents, you need first to confirm what those are; unpack the situation or context in which you find yourself; consciously decide how best to apply your gifts; practice that application in various ways and using different facets; and, finally, get feedback on how you’re doing.

If you want to better leverage your inherent attributes through insightful and actionable executive feedback, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at scott@scottborland.ca or +1-250-882-8830.

About The Author

Scott Borland, Founder & President of CYGNUS Management Consultants Inc, , is a recognized expert in helping executives host strategic conversations and obtain high impact feedback. He brings insightful perspective and proven strategies to strengthen the alignment between strategy and leadership behaviour. Scott has presented frequently at regional/national conferences and is a regular contributor to online journals/blogs. Follow Scott on Twitter or add him as a connection on LinkedIn.

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