Real Leaders

Being Strong Can Make You Stupid!

Most of the time I walk around with the inner illusion that nearly everyone likes me. “After all,” I think, “what’s not to like?” Well, it turns out there is plenty not to like. It’s especially hard to like someone who assumes everyone thinks they are wonderful. Yah, there are plenty of people who think I am a little less than absolutely wonderful…but I am clueless. It’s true.

Research on self-awareness confirms that the person least likely to have a clear view of myself is me. We are all so filled with an inner story of who we are we miss how we actually show up to others. Confidence comes naturally to me. I didn’t have to work hard to develop it.

It was just always there. Confidence is great. But too much of it, I’ve found, is arrogance. And arrogance is repellent. In fact, arrogance makes you stupid. When you are really, really sure of yourself, you simply miss seeing the truth about things that matter. So what’s the answer to being so confident that I fall into arrogance? Well it’s not being less confident. It’s being more humble. Not humble in a “I am not that great” way but humble in the “I have a lot to learn” way.

Confidence balanced with humility can be a powerful strength. Without that balance I am just a jerk. The man who taught me this is Charlie Kim, the CEO of an unusual company named Next Jump. Next Jump is a New York City based ecommerce company that has set a new standard for recruiting and developing extraordinary employees. Charlie’s engineers come from the Ivy League’s top schools. They are all smart. They brim with strengths. But Charlie found that without balance, a strength can make you useless.

Not very many people in organizations seem to understand this today. Training people to use their strengths is a huge multibillion-dollar business. It all started with some research the Gallop organization did which they turned into books, assessments, and programs called thinks like Strength Finder.

The big idea is that people succeed because of their strengths…so discover your strengths and use them to accomplish great things. Sounds great doesn’t it? It certainly appeals to our narcissistic culture. Who doesn’t want to hear, “You are awesome and can become successful by pumping up your awesomeness.” It’s the ultimate self-serving psychological temptation. And that’s one reason it’s so popular.

Some brand of discover and develop your strengths is found in almost every company I come in contact with. In some companies this strengths-based culture is so strong both employees and leaders insist they only do things that use their strengths. They then warn others of their weakness with the subtle message of “deal with it” as if what makes me strong makes up for what makes me weak.

This is not a wise development. I have observed that in the real world the truism that people are hired for their strengths but fired for their weakness is the whole truth. Human beings have three great psychological weaknesses. These are the assassins of both our happiness as well as our achievement. Here they are:

  1. Deny …you have a problem.
  2. Blame …others for your failure.
  3. Rationalize …that failure, in this instance, doesn’t matter.

Most of us seem to be Olympians at excusing our weaknesses. But we don’t have to collect more gold medals for failure. Instead we can develop balance. In studying the research on personal strengths here are some of the most common balanced pairs: Assertive – Patient Analytical – Intuitive Focused – Flexible Charismatic – Authentic Committed – Open-minded Decisive – Reflective Directive – Collaborative Passionate – Prudent Innovative – Practical Confident – Humble Just give yourself a score on a 1 to 10 scale on each side of the list.

Then go to your most insightful, honest friend and ask them to score you. It just might increase your humility. In coaching high achieving powerful people for over thirty years what I’ve seen is that balance is the greatest strength of all. People who are 8 on decisive and 7 on reflective are far more successful than someone who is 10 and a 4 on the same scales. Most of our suffering is self-inflicted.

If you’re not getting the results you want consider what you might be doing to cause the results you are getting. Then make a balanced investment in developing your future self. What I’ve discovered is that I have no secret flaws. Everyone else sees me more clearly than my inner story of myself allows me to. Rather than fret about that I’ve discovered working on improving my balance is what makes me stronger. If life is a sport, balance is the core skill.


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