Leading with self: Strengths and Shadows

What it was:

A talk, self and group exercises on Strengths and Shadows. This was part of the Deputy Director Leadership Programme held in London on 16 and 17 September 2019.

What I learned:

A ‘strength’ is defined as a pre-existing capacity for a particular way of behaving, thinking or feeling that is authentic and energising to the user, and enables optimal functioning, development and performance (Alex Linley, 2008).

It often feels weird to talk about your own strengths.

A quick three-minute estimate of my strengths, in no particular order:

  • Communicating and engaging people, through different styles and channels, both written and  verbal
  • Selling concepts, ideas and messages
  • Operating in the vision, concepts and ideas space, seeing the bigger picture, developing conceptual models and using metaphors
  • Analytical problem solving
  • Crisis management and working at pace
  • Innovating, being comfortable doing things that have not been done before

There is a simple quadrant model for addressing strengths and weaknesses; high capability and use versus low capability and use, and high engagement versus low engagement.

  • Strengths (High capability and use, high engagement)
    Definition: Energises and is enjoyable. Performed frequently and so capability and refinements are developed.
    Coaching Strategy: Build
  • Potential Strengths (Low capability and use, high engagement)
    Definition: Energises and is enjoyable, but has not yet been developed, through lack of opportunity
    Coaching Strategy: Develop
  • Fragile Strengths / learned behaviour (High capability and use, low engagement)
    Definition: Not enjoyable, but have been trained to do these things through work
    Coaching Strategy: Develop 
  • Weaknesses (Low capability and use, low engagement)
    Definition: Not enjoyable, not developed through the role
    Coaching Strategy: Work around

Strengths, when overdone can be “shadows”.  Some examples of strengths becoming shadows: 

Strength <> Shadow
Confident <> Arrogant
Team Player <> Dependent
Networker <> Avoids Tasks
Relationship Builder <> Creating Dependency
Preventer <> Risk Avoider

For example in my own case: Analytical Problem solving is a strength but its shadow is diving into the detail or ignoring potential partners in the problem

Don’t be afraid to say “I need time to reflect on it”

Think about energy – where does your energy come from? Planning and setting out time for these activities generates anticipation, which can itself generate energy.


What I will aim to do differently as a result:

  • Make a plan to address strengths, weaknesses and shadows and incorporate into my learning plan
  • Plan in some ‘energy building’ reward times.

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