I love the strengths-based leadership approach. It challenges us to know what our natural gifts are and build on them. But if we’re not careful it can make us blind to our opportunities to improve.
I recently worked with a vice president who was an up-and-comer in her firm’s global division. She was the “go-to” person on technical issues relating to Asian markets, and she was intentionally developing her leadership style to incorporate coach, mentor and develop others in the company to work effectively with foreign partners.
This was her primary career strategy until a situation that threatened to leave her at the VP level. It turns out that while focusing on the technical aspects of global operations and developing employees to manage them well, she had failed to develop some of her bosses. Her “managing up” skills were weak at the executive level, and she was uncomfortable with the delicate education and persuasion necessary to bring along some of her superiors.
Sticking with the strengths that got her to VP was going to flat-line her career trajectory, so now what?
The good news, whether you use an official strengths-finding tool, work with a coach or just look more deeply into self-reflection, is that you’ll discover that you always have more strengths waiting to be developed. The human being is a deep and expanding well of talent. But probing into these deeper waters may not feel comfortable at first. That’s when you need to look even more deeply at your strengths.
My client stepped into her stretch zone through her love of problem solving and her passion for global business. She approached her “managing up” challenge as a problem to be solved and infused her communications to her bosses with her genuine enjoyment of cross-cultural business and her love of Asia, in particular. She invited them to accompany her to strategic meetings, where they experienced the business potential she saw firsthand, and she answered all their questions with enthusiasm.
She’s still a VP, but now she has a regular dialog with the executive team about the company’s possibilities in Asia. She’s more regularly in her stretch zone in these discussions and has expanded her comfort zone of strengths. It’s just a matter of time until an opportunity opens up for her.
Sometimes we are afraid to develop new strengths in our stretch zone because we don’t want others to know we’re uncomfortable. But if we’re smart about it, we can use this discomfort to lead even more effectively. Join a coaching call later this month to explore how discomfort in your stretch zone can help you lead.
Dana Theus is president and CEO of InPower Consulting, reframing leadership to integrate the emotional intelligence lessons learned from working with women leaders. Theus is also a personal branding and executive coach as well as a regular contributor to SmartBlog on Leadership. Follow her on Twitter at @DanaTheus and on LinkedIn.