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Your strength will become your weakness

August 3, 2010

Over used strength becomes a weakness.There are many different ways of stating the premise that if you overuse a particular strength, it is soon seen by others as a fault, a weakness. My favorite way of saying it is that “your strength will become your weakness.” The point is that if you fully and only play to your strength, your strong suit, that it becomes tiresome to people, or out-dated, a solution that is no longer required. We become obsolete.

That is what I believe Goldsmith meant with the title of his book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. It’s what Einstein was implying when he said that “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Great leaders adapt. They get that the real meaning behind Darwin’s theory is the survival of the most adaptable (as opposed to the “fittest”). And that precept is proving to be as true today as it ever was. There is a bit of a difference though, and that is that most of us seem to agree that the pace or rate of change is much accelerated today compared to past decades. So we are having to adapt faster.

So how are great leaders today helping their organizations to thrive in this ever increasing rate of change environment? First, they have to develop, communicate and enroll people in a vision for how things will be for the organization. Easy to say, not easy to do. The communication is difficult – people learn differently, some visually, some verbally and some are more kinesthetic learners. And many employees are skeptical, do not want to bother to change and are tired of the latest management initiative du jour.

Next, the effective leader will understand where the employees are along the path of personal and organizational development. There are many ways to describe and classify organizational stages. One I like is from David Logan in Tribal Leadership. He describes the organization as being a Tribe and there are five stages of Tribal development (you can read more about this here). Understanding the stages of development of the Tribe, the leader will speak the language appropriate to that level and gently bring the group along through the stages to the highest performing stages four and/or five.

Then the work of the leader is to keep the organization all working toward the vision, the “noble goal” that is an inspiration to all and is also the reason for organizational existence. While keeping everyone moving toward the vision, the great leader will also monitor where the tribe is and as it falls back to a previous stage (and of course, it will from time-to-time), will move them back to the highest performance level.

To my way of thinking, we have the best chance of keeping our organizations moving toward and maintaining a high level of performance if we develop the strength of “continuous learning and change.” Yet, in keeping with the proposed guide that “your strength will become your weakness,” we will have to find the appropriate time to let the Tribe rest and enjoy it’s accomplishments – otherwise our constant change will be the undoing of the Tribe – it won’t know what it stands for without a constant reminder of the vision and a chance to enjoy the fruits of the Tribal labor.

All of this sounds a bit trite. Where’s the action here? What do I actually do? How about this: Start with developing the vision. This is not a group project! The leader (in many cases the founder of the organization) sees circumstances differently than others. He/she sees the opportunity in the seemingly impossible. The vision, the “noble goal” has to be really big, something that will inspire people to give fully of themselves. Here is where the for-profit company might learn something from the not-for-profits that are so mission driven that they convince people to work for free or at least almost free. People, your people, love to believe their work has meaning, that they are adding value, that they are giving back to the world. And yes, they also have to take care of the family and other obligations in their lives. But if “my” organization is working to make the world a better place for everyone by providing an innovative product or service, I’m much more likely to move from the stages outlined in Tribal Leadership: from “Life Sucks,” to “My Life Sucks,” to “I’m Great and You’re Not,” to “We’re Great and They’re Not” and finally to “Life is Great.” Can you see this? If your organization is working from the premise that their work products have meaning and they are doing great things, then why wouldn’t life be great? Why wouldn’t they jump out of bed ready to address the next challenge of the day? So start with the vision thing – it can work miracles. Make it a big world changing vision and enroll your people. They will figure out how to head in the right direction and enjoy the journey along the way.

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