Fear Your Strengths

What You Are Best at Could Be Your Biggest Problem

Bob Kaplan (Author) | Rob Kaiser (Author)

Publication date: 04/01/2013

Bestseller over 20,000+ copies sold

Fear Your Strengths
Robert E. Kaplan and Robert B. Kaiser, in their book Fear Your Strengths, run counter to the play to your strengths fad to show how your strengths can actually betray you

  • Takes on the "play to your strengths" fad to show how your strengths can actually betray you
  • Features tools for keeping your strengths in balance as well as numerous examples of executives from varied backgrounds and companies
  • Published in collaboration with the Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of executive and leadership education

Once you've discovered your strengths, you need to discover something else: your strengths can work against you. You can have too much of a good thing.

Many leaders know this on some intuitive level, and they see it in others. But they don't see it as clearly in themselves. Mainly, they think of leadership development as working on their weaknesses. No wonder. The tools used to assess managers are not equipped to pick up on overplayed strengths. Nowhere in most assessments is there language or diagnostics that can reveal when someone is overdoing it-when more is not better.

Nationally recognized leadership experts Bob Kaplan and Rob Kaiser have conducted thousands of assessments of senior executives designed to determine when their strengths are betraying them. They draw on their data to identify four fundamental leadership qualities, each positive in and of itself but each of which, if overemphasized, can seriously compromise your effectiveness. Most leaders, they've found, are "lopsided"-they favor certain qualities to the exclusion of others without realizing it. The trick is to keep all four in balance.

Consider Steve Jobs, who was fired from Apple because of his lopsided emphasis on grand strategic vision. It was when he returned and corrected that lopsidedness-exemplified in his mantra "real artists ship"-that Apple became the powerhouse it is today.

Fear Your Strengths provides tools to help you become aware of your leadership leanings and excesses and provides insights for combatting the mindset that encourages them. It offers a practical psychology of leadership, a better way for leaders to calibrate their performance, one that is truer to the realities of managerial work.

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Overview

Robert E. Kaplan and Robert B. Kaiser, in their book Fear Your Strengths, run counter to the play to your strengths fad to show how your strengths can actually betray you


  • Takes on the "play to your strengths" fad to show how your strengths can actually betray you
  • Features tools for keeping your strengths in balance as well as numerous examples of executives from varied backgrounds and companies
  • Published in collaboration with the Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of executive and leadership education

Once you've discovered your strengths, you need to discover something else: your strengths can work against you. You can have too much of a good thing.

Many leaders know this on some intuitive level, and they see it in others. But they don't see it as clearly in themselves. Mainly, they think of leadership development as working on their weaknesses. No wonder. The tools used to assess managers are not equipped to pick up on overplayed strengths. Nowhere in most assessments is there language or diagnostics that can reveal when someone is overdoing it-when more is not better.

Nationally recognized leadership experts Bob Kaplan and Rob Kaiser have conducted thousands of assessments of senior executives designed to determine when their strengths are betraying them. They draw on their data to identify four fundamental leadership qualities, each positive in and of itself but each of which, if overemphasized, can seriously compromise your effectiveness. Most leaders, they've found, are "lopsided"-they favor certain qualities to the exclusion of others without realizing it. The trick is to keep all four in balance.

Consider Steve Jobs, who was fired from Apple because of his lopsided emphasis on grand strategic vision. It was when he returned and corrected that lopsidedness-exemplified in his mantra "real artists ship"-that Apple became the powerhouse it is today.

Fear Your Strengths provides tools to help you become aware of your leadership leanings and excesses and provides insights for combatting the mindset that encourages them. It offers a practical psychology of leadership, a better way for leaders to calibrate their performance, one that is truer to the realities of managerial work.

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Meet the Authors


Visit Author Page - Bob Kaplan

Bob Kaplan is president of Kaplan DeVries Inc, specialists in assessing leaders for selection and for development. With Wilfred Drath and Joan Kofodimos, Bob introduced a forerunner of executive coaching. With them he published Beyond Ambition: How Driven Managers Can Lead Better and Live Better. He built an early 360 survey (SKILLscope for Managers), and he came up with the idea for a different breed of 360, the patented Leadership Versatility Index, which he and Rob Kaiser developed and commercialized.

An honorary senior fellow at the Center for Creative Leadership, he has a B.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University. He lives in New York City with his wife Becky.

You can reach him at [email protected] com or log onto http://kaplandevries.com



Visit Author Page - Rob Kaiser

Rob Kaiser is nuts about the subject of leadership. He consults to leaders and their teams, conducts original research, and creates innovative tools for assessment and development. Rob is the author, co-author, and editor of five books, and a highly regarded public speaker who presents his engaging and provocative views to professional audiences around the world. He and Bob Kaplan were awarded a patent for the revolutionary features in their next-generation assessment instrument, the Leadership Versatility Index.

Rob’s research and development work is based on a blend of behavioral science and extensive consulting work that ranges from coaching high potentials to helping CEOs articulate their expectations for senior leaders and using that blueprint to transform the leadership culture.

Rob began his career at the Center for Creative Leadership and joined the executive development firm, Kaplan DeVries Inc. in 1997. He was named partner in 2005. In 2012, he formed Kaiser Leadership Solutions to create and tools for assessment and development that set a new standard for innovation and impact.

Rob received an M.S. in Organizational Psychology from Illinois State University; the College of Arts and Sciences named him alumnus of the year in 2007.

You can reach him at [email protected]

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Table of Contents

Introduction

1 Strengths Beget Weaknesses-In Two Very Different Ways

2 The Yin-Yang Responsibilities of a Leader

3 Mindset

4 Dialing Back

5 The Complete Leader

Notes

Acknowledgments

Index

About the Authors

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Excerpt

Fear Your Strengths

Introduction

THIS BOOK IS THE CULMINATION of the surprising epiphanies and serendipitous insights we have garnered over a lifetime of working with senior leaders, including the CEOs of major corporations, to help them increase their effectiveness. We did not set out to discover what the leadership field has overlooked, but over the years, as we helped these leaders look in the mirror, each little revelation was like a curtain lifting on a neglected part of the drama of leadership. Most of what we have observed is in plain view yet its significance has been missed or it hasn’t been put into practice.

Fifteen years ago, a routine executive assessment provided us with just such a seminal moment. We were working with an executive whose 360-degree evaluation characterized him, as one coworker had put it, as “an elemental force in nature.” Yet his effectiveness as a leader was less than optimal. “Look,” we offered, “you are clearly a force to be reckoned with.” Then we took it a step further. “The problem is that at times you’re overly forceful.” There it was. In a way we had never quite realized or articulated before, we acknowledged that too much strength can be a weakness. It dawned on us that doing too much of something was as much of a problem as doing too little of it.

Put differently, your strengths can work against you. Many leaders know this on some intuitive level, but they tend not to accept it in practice. It’s not even in most managers’ vocabulary. Mainly, they think of leadership development as working on their weaknesses. No wonder. The tools used to assess managers are not equipped to pick up on strengths overplayed. In performance appraisals, managers are typically rated as not meeting expectations, meeting expectations, or exceeding expectations. In coworker feedback questionnaires, popularly known as 360s, managers are typically rated as ineffective, effective, or very effective. Nowhere in most assessments is there language or diagnostics that can reveal when someone is overdoing it—when more is not better.

The lack of attention paid to strengths overplayed has persisted despite the glut of books—most notably, Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton’s Now, Discover Your Strengths—exhorting managers to focus on their strengths. Remarkably, in their enthusiasm to accentuate the positive, Buckingham and other strengths advocates fail to point out to their managerial audience the ever-present danger of taking their strengths too far.

In our consulting work, we have increasingly focused on making leaders aware of that danger and enabling the important developmental work necessary to mitigate it. We have enjoyed enviable firsthand exposure to senior leaders, conducted thousands of assessments of individual executives, and collected reams of data. We have put our thinking into practice in the form of an assessment tool, the Leadership Versatility Index (LVI, US Patent No. 7,121,830), a coworker-feedback questionnaire (360) that we designed expressly to assess for strengths overplayed. It has in turn served to further refine our thinking.

Our statistical findings as well as our practical experience form the basis of this book. We regularly illustrate our insights with case studies of executives with whom we have worked closely and extensively. To guard the executives’ anonymity, the protagonist of each “case” is actually a composite and real names are not used. But the anecdotes, experiences, and voices we describe are unfailingly real, as are the problems we identified and the solutions that were implemented.

Among our most surprising findings has been that leaders often have a hard time acknowledging their strengths in the first place. Once, when preparing for a feedback session, we were startled to see that the executive was so highly rated that there seemed to be practically nothing wrong with his leadership. “We’ve got nothing to work with,” we thought. It was unnerving. It turned out, however, that there was plenty of “ammunition” in the positive feedback. This individual underestimated his assets and, as a result, sometimes overcompensated, making him less effective than he might have been.

Gifted leaders, we have found, are often the last ones to acknowledge their gifts, even when they have ample evidence and feedback that attests to it. The practical fact is that the only way to manage your strengths is to accept them. If you literally don’t know your own strength, you have no way to calibrate or modulate it. In a relentless effort to be better, you have no way of knowing if you are going too far. One of the main missions of this book is to help you come to grips with your strengths and make full use of them without overdoing it.

We have also found that, for most executives, waking up to the potential dangers inherent in their strengths can be a vertigo-inducing shock. As one senior leader admitted, “The idea is unsettling. It’s chilling. I really mean that.” When leaders are faced with the prospect that the very intensity that fueled their rise to the top can be smothering their coworkers and sabotaging their effectiveness, they are often panic-stricken at the thought of needing to ease up. “I’m afraid I’ll lose my edge,” is what we often hear, a reaction that is natural but misguided. In what may be the cruelest of ironies, overplayed strengths are often at the root of career failure. Analyses of derailed leaders time and again point to the excessive reliance on qualities that were key to past success but less relevant to the current role. We have learned that to stop overplaying a strength does not mean, as many leaders fear, to stop using it. It means using the strength more selectively. As another hyperintense executive finally realized, “I don’t have to give up my fast ball. I just don’t have to throw it all the time.”

Coming to grips with the need to modulate your strengths is some of the hardest developmental work you will ever do. After all, it’s your strengths that have made you successful. Why would you ever tamper with a winning formula? As one client quipped, “Overplaying your strengths: that’s a comfy, cozy place to be.” We wrote this book to ease the transition, to offer you real developmental leverage on both a behavioral level and a personal level. The work on yourself isn’t therapy. It is a plainspoken and useful approach that helps you trace your leadership behavior back to the “crooked thinking” and “trigger points” that can throw it off kilter. We offer a practical psychology of leadership—a better way for leaders to get a reading on their performance, one that is truer to the realities of managerial work. Leadership development amounts to moving an individual from point A to point B. Each of the insights and practices described in this book offers the leader added leverage for making that move.

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Endorsements

“It's a pleasure to read a book packed with new insights into what truly makes leaders effective, especially one written in such a vivid, engaging style. This is an extremely useful guide for leaders seeking a deeper understanding of who they are and how they can lead successfully in a complex, ever-changing world.”
—David B. Peterson, PhD, Director of Learning and Development, Google Inc.

“This is a terrific book—powerful, very impactful. Ninety-five percent of the leaders who read it will say, ‘I've got some work to do, and this book will help me do it.'”
—John Ryan, President, Center for Creative Leadership

“Another great set of ideas from Kaplan and Kaiser. How often do we hear the advice to ‘build on your strengths'? That's just too simple. As a leader, you need to constantly adjust your game. This book tells you how.”
—Liz Mellon, Executive Director, Duke Corporate Education, Duke University

“This brilliantly practical work explains succinctly how to overcome the powerful tendency to misuse your strengths and become more versatile and balanced in your approach to leading. In an hour or so, find out how development really works and start changing in ways that matter.”
—Michael Lombardo, cofounder, Lominger, Ltd., and author of the bestselling FYI: For Your Improvement

“The practice of executive assessment is overdue for an upgrade. This refreshing book is a big step in the right direction.”
—Sandy Ogg, Operating Partner, Private Equity Group, Blackstone

“The book resonates. It sheds light on a subject that hasn't been addressed before. We usually say, the weaknesses need to be worked on and the strengths aren't an issue. I enjoyed the stories. I read it on vacation—that should say something.”
—Steve Angel, CEO, Praxair

“With insightful examples, this book offers practical ways to deal with leadership strengths that can turn into derailers. I recommend it.”
—Mirian Graddick-Weir, Executive Vice President, Human Resources, Merck

Fear Your Strengths has great content, it's very practical, and it's a quick read.”
—James Ryan, CEO, Grainger Inc.

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