leaders

Why Leaders’ Strengths and Weaknesses Don’t Matter

By Chris McGoff

Your Strengthsfinder results are in, and they say you’re a highly collaborative leader. Isn’t that great? Maybe, but maybe not. The truth is, your preferred leadership style has nothing at all to do with how your company needs you to lead.

Dozens of companies offer tests like Strengthsfinder, designed to tell us what we do well and where we struggle as leaders. What do we gain from that knowledge? Leadership strength evaluations take a me-centric approach to the act of leading, when leadership itself is about doing the right thing at the right time. As a leader, all you really learn from your test results is when things are going to be easy – and when they aren’t.

A Quick Look at the Four Leadership Styles

All leaders tend to have a “default” style among the following four.

  • Command and Control: Leaders who prefer a command and control style of decision-making will choose to dictate behaviors and responses without seeking input from managers and other employees. They will be comfortable when urgent situations require fast, decisive action.
  • Informed Command and Control: Leaders who default to this style also thrive on decision-making but tend to seek more information and wait to act until they feel like they have a better understanding of any given situation. They perform well when time is of the essence.
  • Limited Consensus: These leaders are planners who seek limited input from others in their decision-making. Limited consensus leaders will be comfortable during low-stakes strategic planning when time and information are both available.
  • Consensus: The consensus leadership style welcomes and synthesizes input from all involved. They are at their best when developing high-stakes strategic plans with feedback from the whole team.

Leading in Real Life

Leaders may know their strengths and weaknesses, but that has no impact on what their companies need from them at any given time.

Consider one day in the life of a corporate leader: The morning news announces that a viral pandemic has closed local schools and canceled gatherings. She must quickly address employee concerns and generate a message to customers during this crisis. After responding immediately with some decisions, she’ll spend a few hours evaluating options and making more decisions about how the team can connect when they need to work from home, whether or not the company will offer loans or additional paid time off to sick employees, and how customers can reach out with an emergency. Decisions made, she walks into an afternoon meeting to discuss the organization’s five-year plan and later ends her day reading proposals for a new 401K program the company is considering.

One or two of those situations may have allowed her to lead with her strongest and most preferred style, but when her company needed her to adopt a different tactic, she had to do it. Leading to one’s strengths is a luxury, not a game plan. Real leadership requires leaders to abandon their proclivities and immediately embody the style that their organization demands of them.

What Great Leaders Know

Leaning too hard on your strengths is dangerous. It can result in bad decision-making or failure to act in a time of crisis. Instead, great leaders know how to adapt the style their companies demand when the situation requires it. They have self-awareness, and they assess themselves constantly to better recognize when they’re acting out of comfort or convenience rather than acting correctly.

The best way to cope with this incongruity is to be prepared. Put every leadership style in your pocket each morning and be ready to use each one when the situation calls for it. Sometimes, you’ll have the opportunity to use your strengths. Other times, you’ll get to practice and improve upon your weaker areas. That’s what it means to lead.

How have you abandoned your comfort zone to lead powerfully? What do you do when you find yourself defaulting to a comfortable leadership style even though your company needs you to be someone else? Let’s continue the conversation.