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Jesse Jacoby

We live in a culture of yes. In the business world, we are taught to engage, be assertive and never turn down an opportunity. All of this behavior results in a whole lot of yeses (and time commitments). After all, saying yes is fun; it often feels a lot better than saying no. To further compound the issue, most of us aim to please — our bosses, our coworkers and our teams. There is no …

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When Leaders Overplay Their Strengths

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Business Colleagues Working At Desk In WarehouseSelf-awareness has been identified as a cornerstone of leadership success. No leader is equally strong in all areas, and characteristics that were strengths yesterday may actually impede progress tomorrow. You need to know where you are strong and where you need development. It is important for leaders to look objectively at their particular competency profiles and determine:

  • Areas in which they need to develop greater strength or modify behaviors in order to achieve their key objectives
  • Areas that could hinder or even derail their efforts in their new/expanded role

Almost any competency that can serve as an important strength can also, if overused or misused, derail a leader. Faced with a demanding new set of challenges, it is common for most of us to reach for the skills and behaviors that have served us well in the past and feel like very familiar, comfortable tools. However, the most comfortable tool is not necessarily the best tool for the job—or even an appropriate one.

When taking on a new/expanded leadership role, it is especially important to take stock of strengths and their appropriate application in the new role. It is also crucial to be alert for the “down-side” potential of each strength that can lead to derailment.

The following list shows key strengths that can have potential drawbacks if overused/misused.
>> Download the PDF quick-reference here.

Business Intelligence

  • Analytic Thinker – Suffers from “analysis paralysis;” indecisive; builds overly large staffs.
  • Decisive – Impulsive or reckless; perceived as dictatorial, insensitive to others, or oblivious to other perspectives.
  • Detail-Oriented – Lacks vision and strategic abilities.
  • Global Perspective – Tends to get overextended, unfocused; misses local opportunities.
  • Highly Intelligent – Dismissive of others’ perspectives, intimidating, or arrogant; impatient with or inattentive to important pragmatic concerns and details.
  • Imaginative – Unrealistic; perceived as eccentric; has trouble selling ideas.
  • Innovative – Unrealistic or impractical; wastes time and money.
  • Prudent – Overly cautious or inflexible; unable to innovate.
  • Visionary Strategic – Insufficient detail-orientation, focus, or tactical skill.


  • Action Bias – Reckless and dictatorial, or perceived that way
  • Charismatic – Tendency to deflect healthy skepticism.
  • Customer-Focused – Fails to achieve breakthrough thinking; overly conservative, unrealistic, or unable to control costs.
  • Results-Oriented – Allows ethical lapses or holds lopsided values; creates work/life imbalance for self and subordinates.
  • Sets High Standards – Overly selective; never fills positions.
  • Supportive – Fosters dependence; fails to challenge staff.

Interpersonal & Organizational Relations

  • Charming – Perceived as manipulative; blind to others’ perspectives.
  • Frank – Insensitive, unnecessarily damaging important relationships.
  • Interpersonally Skilled – Unwilling to make tough, unpopular decisions; not demanding enough.
  • Sets High Standards – Perceived as autocratic; unwilling to coach or support learning.
  • Strong Ties with Supervisor – Not independent enough, or perceived that way.
  • Team Player – Overly risk-averse; fails to assert independent judgment when needed.
  • Tough Negotiator – Unnecessarily damages important relationships.

Personal Performance Management

  • Ambitious – More committed to own advancement than to the organization or to specific assignments; allows ethical lapses.
  • Confident – Perceived as arrogant; over-commits and under-delivers; resists needed coaching & feedback.
  • Conscientious – Over-manages subordinates; fails to empower and develop others sufficiently.
  • Independent – Unable to collaborate.
  • Poise under Pressure – Reluctant to discuss doubts or seek needed feedback and counsel.
  • Principled – Perceived as overly rigid or self-righteous; unnecessarily imposes own values.
  • Successful Track Record – Overly reliant on past ideas and approaches; becomes arrogant, underestimating new challenges or need for collaboration.
  • Tough – Perceived as abrasive; unnecessarily damages important relationships.

Savvy TransitionBased on the Build Self-Awareness and Leverage Strengths activities of Savvy Transition, an online playbook and toolkit for leaders in transition.

Learn more at

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Jesse Jacoby
The Editor of Emergent Journal and founder of Emergent, Jesse is a recognized expert in business transformation. He and his team partner with Fortune 500 and mid-market companies to deliver successful people and change strategies. Jesse is the creator of the Accelerating Change & Transformation (ACT) model and developer of Change Accelerator and Savvy Transition. Contact Jesse at 303-883-5941 or

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