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How to tell if your strengths are sabotaging your future success

By 2nd September 2021Blog
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You are good at what you do. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t hold the leadership role you do today.

To climb the career ladder, you’ve honed certain skills and up-played certain qualities.

These go-to strengths in your armoury have always served you well. But is that still the case or are they now unwittingly sabotaging your success as a leader? Because overplaying your strengths at the wrong time with the wrong person can become a weakness.

Of course, the difficulty with being a leader is that you may not even know your leadership is lagging rather than leading. For the higher you rise, the harder it is to get an honest perspective. So how do you spot the signs that your strengths, as a leader, might actually be sabotaging your future success?

Becoming a straight ‘A’s leader

That’s where Axiom’s straight ‘A’s approach can help.

It not only gives leaders and their teams the opportunity to stop and reflect on why they are successful, but also on where their limitations are.

Miles Henson, long-time consultant, coach and facilitator with Axiom, was instrumental in helping develop the straight ‘A’s, which is all about interpersonal excellence. Firmly rooted in established sports, neuro and behavioural science, straight ‘A’s has proven valuable to industry leaders the world over time and again.

“The straight ‘A’s approach holds up a mirror. Using validated tools and feedback, it allows a leader to discover and reflect on the strengths they have that are useful to them and those things that aren’t, in specific interpersonal scenarios,” explains Miles.

“The key is knowing when to play to which of your strengths and with whom, because getting straight ‘A’s stems from a simple concept; that we are all different.”

While many organisations can standardise processes, what’s impossible to standardise, whenever people are involved, is the outcome of interpersonal exchanges; that’s a direct result of us all being different. So, be it selling a service to a customer, or a strategy to staff, individual communication style and preferences impact every interaction and ultimately every outcome.

“My preferences are different to yours, so if I’m an enlightened leader why would I think my peers, my team, or my stakeholders need what I need? They don’t, so you can see how it’s a limitation when leaders have a one size fits all approach that only plays to their own style and strengths, rather than meeting the needs of others,” explains Miles.

Straight ‘A’s is powerful because it gives leaders the tools and techniques to:

· Be mindful of their preferred style (Awareness – of self)

· Spot other people’s preferences to work out what they need (Astuteness), and

· Flex their style accordingly (Agility).

“That’s why we called it the straight ‘A’s,” says Miles. “Awareness, astuteness and agility lead to interpersonal excellence, in all situations and with all sorts of people. It’s a combination that strikes right to the heart of highly successful leadership.”

How too much of a good thing can become a bad thing

We’ve all been there. It’s the end of an exhausting week and your boss, the one who promises it will be a quick catch-up but loves to chat about everything other than the point, sticks in a 16.30 team meeting.

Or the boss who first thing on Monday morning barked out urgent orders for a piece of ‘mission critical’ work, hasn’t been heard from since, and then sends a one liner at close of play Friday stating: ‘Things have moved on, stand down’.

Leaders who overplay certain strengths and demonstrate inflexible behaviours inevitably fail to get the best out of their people, simply because their people need different things from them.

As an illustrative example of why these things matter, let’s look at former manager of the reds, Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson CBE. Here’s a highly competitive leader, totally committed to winning.

“You’ll hear stories that Alex Ferguson could be ruthless,” says Miles.

“He had a tough mentality, especially with the media. That challenging, confident, no-nonsense style clearly worked for him. But he knew that wouldn’t work when managing his players and because of that I’d argue his leadership strength was his versatility. Time and again he demonstrated he had his players’ backs.

“I’m not saying he went easy on his players, the stories I’ve heard suggest he could certainly rip a strip off somebody. But he led with honesty and integrity and never criticised any of his players in public. That built trust and gained him the respect of his team. They knew they could go and talk to him about anything. He created a psychologically safe environment and high performing teams.

“He was a strong leader, who could be difficult, so it’s easy to see how he could have overplayed his dominant traits. But he was brilliant at working out that one player needed him to be like this, while another player needed him to be something different, then adapting his style to it.

“More recently for balance, Man City’s manager, Pep Guardiola, is carving out a similar reputation but with a greater focus on the details.”

“And it’s no different for business leaders. To get the best out of their people, leaders need to understand what individuals need from them and flex their leadership style accordingly.”

From Good to Great leadership

The good news is that if you aren’t meeting the needs of others, all the signs are there if you know how to spot them. Some of the most common signals Axiom see are leaders who:

· Work hard to be inclusive, regularly asking their teams for input, only to leave another meeting frustrated that they’ve not agreed a way forward… yet again.

· Ask people to reflect and share their insights to create an innovative solution but tell them the answer they want up front.

· Focus so much on the detail and process that they lose sight of the big picture and what’s important.

The great news is that Axiom’s straight ‘A’s approach goes further than help leaders understand their strengths by becoming more self-aware. It goes on to address the ‘so what?’ question. Firstly, by providing practical tools to identify the varying needs of others (Astuteness). And secondly, by offering adaptation techniques (Agility), proven to deliver success in all sorts of scenarios – from goal setting to conflict resolution and storytelling to negotiation. It guarantees a leader secures the best result, from their every interaction, time after time.

What got you here won’t get you there

‘What got you here won’t get you there.’ It’s such a well-used phrase it’s bordering on cliché. But the thing is, when it comes to leadership, it’s never been truer because what we need from our leaders is constantly changing.

As Miles concludes:

“The current crop of youngsters coming into the workplace aren’t sticking around for an outdated ‘do as I tell you,’ leadership style – often a hangover from the industrial age. In today’s digitally enabled enterprises, they want their leaders to show empathy, vulnerability, to be inclusive and have a sense of fun. Leadership, even from five years ago, isn’t what it is today. The dial has completely shifted, so equipping leaders and line managers to spot and agilely meet others’ individual needs, is business critical if you want to deliver results and successfully attract and retain your talent pipeline.”

Miles Henson is a world-class consultant, coach, and keynote speaker. A renowned expert in the field of communication and people behaviour, his strength is helping others see why people say and act the way they do. He works with global businesses and in elite sport to help leaders effectively communicate, get the best from their people, and deliver the outcomes they want. He has been partnering with Axiom for more than two decades.

The straight ‘A’s approach is part of Axiom’s leadership development portfolio, which gives the practical skills leaders need in these fast-changing times. If you’d like to get straight ‘A’s, or any of our leadership programmes, we’d love to hear from you!

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