The Negative Impacts of Our Strengths?

During a conversation yesterday, I started to reflect on a pivotal experience that lead to extensive personal and professional growth. If you'll indulge my reflection, here is my story.

In a Coaches training during the summer of 2014, I was challenged to think about my strengths. I would generally think of my self as a fairly reflective picking out strengths was pretty easy. 

  • Loyal 
  • Caring
  • Passionate about what I believe in
  • Analytical
  • Able to learn and synthesize information quickly
  • Driver
  • Highly Expressive

Then...they asked us to slim it down to 3. 3 characteristics that most accurately convey who we are?! Hmmm...that was going to be a bit more challenging. I remember writing and crossing out ideas. Repeatedly. Listen, I am an analytical person. This challenge was not easy for me. I may (or may not) have leaned over to my close friend and asked for help. This is what we arrived at:

  • Passionate about what I believe in 
  • Highly Expressive
  • Able to learn and synthesize information quickly
  • Driver

What?! I struggled to settle on four worked fine and the process wasn't too bad. But our next steps were humbling in the best possible way. Honestly, this single experience impacted me personally and professionally from that day forward. We were challenged to think about how our strengths can negatively impact others if not managed properly. Yikes.  So I started the list...

  • Passionate about what I believe in 
    • Overwhelming
    • Off-putting
    • Talk too much
    • Frustrated easily by those not on the same page
  • Highly Expressive
    • Dominated verbal & nonverbal communication
    • Forgets to stop & listen
    • Too blunt
  • Able to learn and synthesize information quickly
    • Assumes everyone is on the same page as me
    • Misses out on social learning opportunities
    • Alienates those who can't do the same (processes information differently)
  • Driver
    • Controlling
    • Not good at delegation (which leads to burn out)
    • Wants things done my way
    • Seen as not flexible or rigid

"Oh my gosh..." I remember whispering, "I am such a jerk." My sweet friend replied, "You are not a jerk! But sometimes people might see you that way."

I cannot control how others PERCEIVE me, but I can control how others EXPERIENCE me. 

It was like a light bulb flicked on and illuminated multiple experiences from my past. My entire adult life, I had been told that I was intimidating. Each time I heard it, I fell discouraged. I love people. I care about people a lot. I have never wanted someone to be intimidated by me. But...I could not and cannot control the perceptions of others. Which is precisely the point of the exercise. I cannot control how others PERCEIVE me, but I can control how others EXPERIENCE me. 

Here are the strategies I developed after identifying the icky, icky impacts of my strengths if unmanaged. 

  • When working with others, choose not to be the first one speaking.
  • Try to clarify PRIOR to adding information.
  • Summarizing the thoughts of others is key.
  • Value ideas even if they are different than mine.
  • Check my response both verbal and non-verbal.
  • Slow down.
  • Remember, in every moment, we are always better as a team. 

Since I am on a trip down memory lane, I sought out my reflection after completing this professional development. I thought I would share it below:

"Perhaps the best place to start a personal AIW local coaching reflection lies in the more intimate, lower half of the coaching diamond. My journey to becoming an AIW coach coincided with some other life-changing events including my first pregnancy and my first child. Decidedly the conglomeration of these events has led to one of the most challenging and rewarding years of my personal and professional life. In fact, the original draft of this reflection was written on my smartphone in Gmail while in bed lying next to my newborn son. It has been in moments like these and the ones that I will discuss below that I have learned invaluable things about teaching, learning, and, most of all, about myself.

The beginning of my development into an AIW coach started with embracing who I am. I admit, on our first day of coaches training, as I scribbled out my strengths and shadow-sides, I became transfixed with the less than desirable outcomes of my personality. I missed that my passion drives me to learn deeply and often inspires others as I communicate with enthusiasm. I ignored that my ability to take in information, contextualize and analyze it quickly can help others in the process of thinking things through. I overlooked how my outgoing and friendly personality makes others feel welcome. I was unaware of the simple fact that my work ethic drives change. Instead, I focused on my tendency to lack balance, railroad others, make snap judgments, talk too much, overwhelm and make people feel under-valued. I found myself wishing that I could be the person that just wants to make everyone happy. I was so misguided. Understanding and accepting who I am is not only important in my life, it is essential to the strength of my AIW teams. Without a doubt, "people focused" individuals are needed, but so are drivers. Trying to be anything other than oneself will only result in the malnourishment of an entire group; the unit is healthier when individual parts are varied.  Groups are healthiest when each part is growing professionally and personally."

Now I am a little bit older, I have two babies rather than one. I am quickly becoming part of the "older" group of teachers. I have had a billion experiences, failures, and opportunities to grow. Still...I will always appreciate this exercise because it helped me accept myself and reflect on my impacts. I use the outcomes from this activity on a daily basis. I have colleagues comment on my changes over the years. Some of the changes are attributed to becoming a mother, but many are attributed to a hard look in the mirror!

If you work with leaders or are a leader yourself, I strongly suggest that you lead your team in an exercise similar to this. I have included a free Presentation and Graphic Organizer to use if it would be valuable. 

I would love to hear your strengths and the impacts of those. Share your thoughts with me!