Versatile Leadership  

December 28, 2018

I just finished the book titled, Fear Your Strengths: What You Are Best At Could Be Your Biggest Problem by Robert E. Kaplan and Robert B. Kaiser. The general theme of the book is that a leader’s overreliance on his/her strengths can be detrimental to themselves and the organization they lead. There is a great deal of literature available on strengths-based leadership that I believe could be quite helpful to many. However, I have also felt that a simple awareness of individual strengths and the strengths of others is not enough. What I appreciated most about the Fear Your Strengths book is that the authors push the reader to think more introspectively about leadership and recognize that the best leaders act on their strengths, but also learn to recognize when a strength is being overdone and work toward a balance or versatility.

As the author’s researched leadership qualities, they found that there are two pairs of leadership traits that all leaders are confronted with: 1) the need to be forceful, yet enabling enough to make it possible for others in the organization to lead, and 2) the need to be strategic while also having an operational focus.

1st Common Pair of Leadership Traits: Forceful and Enabling Leadership. A forceful leader can alienate colleagues with their dominating approach, whereas, an enabling leader may lost their ability to make tough decisions when their focus is solely on enabling others. It is important to note that the research found that 90% of the time, if a leader was considered forceful by coworkers, then that leader was also very unlikely to be enabling. A leader must take a stand and have a presence, however, controlling behaviors negatively impact the necessity of bringing others on board.
2nd Common Pair of Leadership Traits: Strategic and Operational Leadership. Strategic focused leaders are noted to be future-oriented and visionary, however they generally lack the detail-oriented focus needed to achieve that vision. Leaders who are strong in the details that drive an organization systematically are often times missing the larger picture. The research shows that an effective leader needs both a long-term and short-term orientation. However, 80% of the time a leader who has a strong vision is very unlikely to have an operational focus.

The most effective leaders are what the authors call versatile in their leadership. In other words, the pairs of leader-ship traits mentioned earlier cannot be viewed as an either-or, but instead both embraced as valuable, ultimately committing to changing both mindset and behavior. In order to be more effective in one’s weaker areas, the leader must value what it is that is lacking and consciously dial up or dial down a lopsided approach.

As I reflect on the ideas in this book, I know I’ll be working on finding just the right amount, rather than too little or too much, of the leadership pairs discussed in the book:

Strategis vs. Operational
Innovation...just right...Order
Growth...just right...Efficiency
Direction...just right...Execution

Forceful vs. Enabling
Takes Charge...just right...Empowers
Declares...just right...Listens
Pushes...just right...Supports

-by Kelly Clapp, Teaching & Learning Coordinator