Can Strengths get us into mischief?

Several years ago, I was hired by a large technology company to facilitate an Executive Retreat team event for a global team of 18 executives.  The VP of Human Resources was the one spearheading the program. This VP had extensive experience working with the assessment tool I was using for the program from a previous company and was interested in introducing it into his new organization. From what the VP told me, the Executive Team Leader of this team was supportive of using the assessment with his team.

 The HR leader confided in me that the VP leading the Executive team was relatively new, an American, and leading a culturally diverse team of men and women globally. Apparently, he was facing some challenges with his style of leadership.  The problem to be solved by doing the team event was to help him gain an appreciation for the unique talents of those he was leading and to open a conversation within the team about how these strengths could better partner.  It would also be an opportunity for the Team Leader to share his own strengths with his team.

 An important component of the program is for participants to have a one-on-one debrief with me in advance of the team session regarding their talent assessment results.  As the team event approached, I had concerns that the Team Leader kept postponing his appointment with me and failed to complete the assessment.  It was becoming obvious that perhaps he had not truly bought in to the benefits of doing the team program. My real concern was the message this leader would be sending to his team by not being an active participant in the program.  It was also becoming very clear to me why this leader might be facing challenges to his leadership style.

In the end, he completed the assessment the night before the team event. When I saw his assessment results, it was easy for me to see how his combination of strengths and dominant work style might get him into mischief.  In his case, he was off the charts in the “getting things done” work style, had a tendency to be impatient to act, and had a very strong need to “win”. Of course, these can be wonderful strengths when used in collaboration with others!

On the morning of the team event, the first thing I noticed when the group arrived for the session was that not one of the other executives actually took the seat next to the Team Leader.  He sat in the front seat of a U-shaped seating arrangement often with his back to the team.  Now the main focus of the program is to foster the team’s ability to capitalize on both the individual strengths and the collective strengths of the team.  On this point, the Team Leader continually challenged me as he was a big fan of knowing weaknesses. I could feel the energy in the room changing every time he spoke up.  Where was the celebratory spirit around all the great strengths in the room?

The good news is that the team program was extremely well received by the other executives, as they were genuinely interested in learning about how to collaborate as peers on the team.  Yet the Team Leader completely missed the point.  Rather than use his strengths to motivate and collaborate with his team, he spent a fair amount of time on his cell phone during breaks and texting messages for work.  His impatience for action coupled with his strong need to be achieving on a personal level continued to alienate the team.  As the Team Leader, he had an opportunity to reflect on the strengths of everyone in the room and communicate with them about how their strengths could compliment his own.  It was a missed opportunity for learning and partnership that could have helped him gain the trust of his team.

So, can strengths get us into mischief?  Absolutely.  Can we become more self-aware about how this happens and stay open to changing how we are showing up for others?  Definitely. It all depends on whether or not the leader is willing to be open to honest feedback from the team and to be a true partner for them.

 To learn more about StrengthsFinder® and team collaboration, contact Transforming Strengths, LLC at