When Strengths Can Be A Problem

The Basement Of Your Natural Talents Is More Likely To Trip You Up Than A Lesser Talent


Picture the scene of someone who has just got their Clifton StrengthFinder profile report – after a quick glance at their top 5 talent themes (strength categories), they hastily turn over the pages and go to the bottom of the list and start to digest and reflect on what these mean for them, thinking these must be their weaknesses.  This is a typical scenario when first reviewing someone’s Strengths profile.  Trying to get them to focus on their real strengths can be a challenge as a coach, at least initially.  However, as they start to understand their profile, it is much more evident that the basement of their top 5 talents have more of an impact on their daily life than their lesser talents.

A person’s talents help to explain how they tend to think and arrive at decisions, how they communicate and influence people as well as how they approach relationships and respond to situations.  Each talent theme has a balcony and a basement aspect to them.  The balcony is the positive side to a talent and the basement is the potential negative side.  The key is to ensure that the positive attributes to the talent is recognised and leveraged into a strength whilst being aware of and addressing its negative implications.

For example, a manager who is high in Harmony naturally looks for consensus.  They are likely to be effective as managers as they are collaborative by nature; they can sense potential areas of conflict and quickly intervene and help people find a common ground.   They often focus on what is most important to address, which helps provide clarity for a team.  However, the basement for this theme is that they are likely to shy away from any form of conflict.  This can not only cause an issue with their ability to deal with tricky people or situations, but also, they can have a tendency to downplay a situation, rather than allow a team to openly discuss issues and ideas which could produce potentially better decisions or outcomes.  At its worst, colleagues can interpret this strength as a weakness and frequently, the individual will imagine themselves to be weak as well, berating their ability to deal with conflict.

Similarly, a manager high in Empathy will intuitively sense what their team members are feeling.  As a result, they can pick up “signals” when someone is not motivated or happy and address them quickly before things become a real issue.  They can often sense the way people may react to feedback or a situation and adapt as appropriate in a constructive manner.  However, the basement of this theme can mean that they get caught up in other people’s emotions which can affect their own sense of equilibrium.  It can also affect their judgement as they are likely to find it difficult to make decisions without considering the emotional impact.

These managers, are likely to wrestle with this aspect of their top 5 talent themes rather than one that it is much further down in their profile report.  A lesser talent (typically those that are ranked over 30) often means that you don’t think or act in that manner – positively or negatively.  For example, someone who has a lesser talent in competition, doesn’t mean that they don’t strive to be the best they can be at something, they just don’t feel it necessary to benchmark themselves against others and be recognised as being the best.  Their motivation to succeed is likely to come from a different strength.

It is therefore, I believe, more important to have a greater self-awareness of the potential biases and its implications of their dominant talent themes, particularly their top 5, and then identify how to counter them.  This can often be achieved by leveraging other strengths to build strategies that counter the negative implications or, if appropriate, build complementary partnerships with a colleague.

However, bear in mind Gallup’s mantra that “while failure can be avoided by focusing on weaknesses, excellence is only achieved when we focus on strengths”.  The key is to fully appreciate the balconies of your talents and turn them into real strengths by applying them effectively to achieve sustained excellence.


Kate Woodthorpe

Executive Coach – Oakfield Business Coaching

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.