Are You Making This Leadership Mistake?

“I can’t believe I got pulled into my bosses office the other day and accused of being a micromanager, when in my performance review last year I was praised for my attention to detail," was part of the conversation I had with a client a few weeks ago. Have you ever had a strength of yours be called into question as a barrier to your leadership?

  • "You have a lot of energy" becomes “At times he is over-bearing."
  • “You are such a team player” becomes “You can not deliver what you are responsible for."
  • “You are so flexible” becomes “You do not have a mind of your own."
  • “You have such a sense of hope” becomes “You see the world in rose colored glasses."

In all of these cases, the leader has a strength that became a barrier to leadership.

How does this happen?

Thinking about right solution. Young man is standing against blackboard with drawing weight.

Imbalance Diminishes Effectiveness

I ran across an interesting quote the other day while researching what it means to be a versatile leader:

“Leadership consists of opposing strengths, and most leaders have a natural tendency to overdevelop one at the expense of another. This resulting imbalance diminishes their effectiveness." (Kaplan & Kaiser, "Developing versatile leadership,” MIT Sloan Management Review, 44(4))

The definition I use for leadership is: "Leadership is a process that gets results via a relationship between a leader and a follower."

What Kaplan and Kaiser are saying is that leaders are relying too heavily on one strength over another strength and that this imbalance is creating a barrier to an effective leadership process.

Have you observed this in leaders you work with or maybe even in yourself?

The stories will go something like this:

  • “He is smart and a real expert in his field, but he needs to pay more attention to the relationships with those on the team." / Imbalance between intellect and interpersonal relationships.
  • “She is self-confident and has a clear sense of direction while showing little to no empathy along the way." / Imbalance between self-regard and empathy.
  • “He is so compassionate and caring about the people, its just that nothing ever gets done." / Imbalance between people and results.
  • “She is so flexible and calm, but it seems like she just isn’t aware of the tension we all are feeling." / Imbalance between flexibility and stress tolerance.

You can see the contrasts!

When a leader is highly results driven, which we all want, the people who are working to achieve the results can become a distant second in priority. This is often unintentional on the part of the leader, but this lack of intention does not lessen the impact that those on the receiving end feel. These imbalances are often caused by being strong in an area where there is nothing to keep the strength in check.

It would look something like this:

Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 3.33.13 PM

My Phone Rings

As an executive coach, the conversation with HR support or the direct supervisor will usually include a statement that goes something like this: “We really like the individual. They provide a lot of value to the organization. They just seem to lack emotional intelligence."

What this means is that a leader is delivering or has historically delivered results, but feedback into the organization is saying things could even be better if there was some tempering of the quality that is valued.

Emotional Intelligence seems to be quickly becoming the buzz word catch all phrase for when a leader's strengths are out of balance, creating a barrier to their leadership. The emotional intelligence model I use in my practice was developed by Revue BarOn and is published by Multi-Health Systems.

It is comprised of the following 15 Competencies: Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 3.37.56 PM

Each of these competencies can be a real strength for you as a leader. The question is, are you over reliant on a strength to the point that it is becoming a barrier to your performance?

Assessment Tool

Since leadership is both results and people-oriented, we need a tool that helps us assess both factors. Karol Wasylyshyn, in her book Destined to Lead, has put together a results/behavior matrix that I have found very useful in helping leaders to see this imbalance. In this model, results and behaviors can either be positive or negative.

Four results are possible from this combination: 1. Results +/Behaviors+ 2. Results +/Behaviors - 3. Results -/Behaviors + 4. Results-/Behaviors -

For our purposes here we are going to assume the leader is getting results, so we will focus on whether or not the appropriate behaviors are evident. (If you want the full explanation of the matrix I do recommend Karol’s book as there are a number of excellent leader development tools.)

Because we are assuming results are positive, then we are really talking about 2 scenarios: 1. Positive Behaviors 2. Negative Behaviors

The scenario that most often we are concerned with when it comes to performers is that of positive results and negative behaviors.

Wasylyshn says, “These people can be high maintenance, sour others with their cynicism, or otherwise erode team performance.” These negative behaviors then become the barrier that Kaplan and Kaiser identified.

Bringing strengths into alignment is a leadership attribute that can pay huge dividends in overall team performance. Why not look at development using one strength to balance another so that leaders get performance results with people rather than instead of them?


Perhaps someone on your team is achieving results but not maximizing team performance. Can you identify one of their strengths that is out of balance? How could you coach them on bringing that strength into balance by using another strength they possess?

I would love to hear your story. Please leave a comment below and let us know how this balancing act is working for you!