Your Strengths Have AntiPatterns

Learn to recognize behaviors when you're over-leveraging your strengths to the point that they become liabilities. And discover the path back to health.

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Focusing on strengths is vital when it comes to being a servant leader. 

When you understand the strengths of yourself and your team, you learn how to bring out the best in each person and discover a vision for how team members can collaborate and experience that they're better together than alone. 

Some strength pairs amplify one another, and others create friction. When you understand these team dynamics, you can better serve those you lead.

But it’s not just about your team. As a servant leader, you are more likely to have confidence in yourself and your decisions by recognizing and building on your unique strengths. 

Don't underestimate the power of focusing on your strengths. It’s time to unlock your team’s greater potential.

Why focus on Strengths?

Influential leaders cultivate personal and professional growth. But many fall into the trap of focusing on their weaknesses rather than their strengths.

The trap of focusing on weakness.

It’s typical human nature to see the areas we don’t measure up, especially compared to others around us. And then a common conclusion is, “I should try and be like them.” But the ROI for improving our weaknesses is pretty terrible. 

When you focus on weaknesses, you can exert much effort and go from bad to just ok. And that may feel good, but if I’m just ok at a task, I’m not making a quality contribution when I’m doing it. Even when I’ve worked really hard to become just ok, I should still let someone else, who’s excellent at it, do it.

Growing your team is your best investment as a servant leader.

The reality is I will never be as detail-oriented as my friends who are accountants. I could focus a whole year working on this, and it still wouldn’t be close to my best contribution to a team or business. 

The leverage of focusing on strengths.

Now if I took that same year and focused on improving an area I’m already strong in, I’m leveling up my impact on myself, my family, my team or organization.

When you take an area you already have talent and develop it into a strength, you begin to live and lead from how you were designed.

This strategy is the critical premise of strengths psychology and strengths-based leadership. If you’re going to grow as a leader, you need to cultivate your strengths rather than focus on your weaknesses.

What is StrengthsFinder?

SterengthsFinder, now CliftonStrengths, is an assessment based on strengths psychology. The fundamental premise is you will get farther by maxing out your strengths rather than trying to improve your weaknesses. 

ROI for improving our weaknesses is pretty terrible.

I’ve seen numerous leaders grow as they identified their talents and turned them into well-developed strengths. But you don’t have to be a leader to benefit from StrengthsFinder, and you can apply it to more than just work. 

Understanding your strengths and weaknesses helps you better understand and live out your unique design.

The StengthsFinder framework includes 34 different strengths. You will get back your top 5 strengths when you take the assessment. You can pay for an ordered list of all 34, but I wouldn’t recommend that the first time you take the assessment.

Focusing on strengths is vital when it comes to being a servant leader

Focus is critical to developing your strengths. Keeping just your top 5 in view helps you make meaningful growth in the areas of your life with the highest leverage and impact. 

When working with teams, many find StrengthsFinder more concrete than other personality or skills-based assessments. Because of this, I find StrengthsFinder a good starting point when helping teams discover their individual and collective design. 

Once your team understands their strengths and how it shapes their role and impact on the team, you can level up by combining them with other frameworks like MBTI or the Enneagram.

All 34 StrengthsFinder strengths

Thirty-four distinct strengths make up the StrengthsFinder framework. If you already know your top five, you can click on them below to discover how your strengths can impact your leadership.

StrengthsFinder combinations to be aware of

Your strengths don’t operate in isolation. We are complex beings, and our thoughts and behaviors are shaped by our strengths, personality, experience, culture, family of origin, and so much more.

But even when focusing on just the facet of our talents and strengths, there is still a dynamic influence between specific strength combinations. 

These combinations can exist within one person who possesses both strengths in their top five and can also play out across teams when different team members share these combinations.

Some combinations build on one another, some create friction, and most do a little of both.

Solving Problems: Strategic + Arranger + Analytical

People with these three strengths each bring a unique approach and contribution to problem-solving. As a servant leader, you will serve your team well when you can facilitate in a way for each person to bring their best contribution to the task at hand.

Those with the strategic strengthsFinder talent see the whole problem like a puzzle and quickly begin to architect a path to the solution. They will intuitively find the best solutions available and then move to implementation. However, when factors or circumstances change, they don’t adapt well.

This is where team members with the strengthsFinder arranger talent come in. Complex, dynamic problems energize them. They are great at working through sudden, unexpected issues when they come up. They can help the strategic team member re-navigate on the fly.

Team members with analytical strengthsFinder talent see the detail, while those with the arranger or strategic talents see more of an abstraction.

These diverse perspectives and strengths can sometimes create friction, but when led together well, they can also combine to have an extraordinary impact. 

All gas. No brakes: Activator + Achiever

Activators love to start, and Achievers love to finish.  

Activators can be guilty of starting more things than they have the energy to complete. Now, combine them with an achiever who wants to win but knows it doesn’t count until it’s done. Together they become a dynamic duo that just simply gets stuff done. 

Accidental to-do lists: Ideation + Achiever + Responsibility

People with the StrengthsFinder Ideation talent generate one idea after another, and imagining what is possible energizes them. This strength can lead to incredible innovation but can create problems when the leader is an ideator with achiever and responsibility team members.

The team members with the achiever and responsibility strengths will feel a strong desire to complete things on time and on target. There is a risk that they will interpret the leader's what-ifs as to-dos and begin executing them. 

And a leader with ideation will always generate ideas faster than a team can execute them, sometimes more quickly than they can write them down. To be effective, this leader must be clear when they are expressing their curiosity and when they are setting direction.

I personally have a combination of ideation and achiever, which means I think of endless possibilities and want to do them all. I have to be very disciplined and clear about my commitments. 

Differing views: Context + Futuristic

Imagine two people standing on a timeline, one facing forward and one facing back. Neither is willing to turn around and see the other side. This illustration is a picture of teams where some members have the context strength, and others have the futuristic strength

Because they have radically different views, they tell different stories to make sense of the world. These various stories can create significant challenges when it comes to alignment.

But if a servant leader can facilitate in such a way that they can appreciate one another’s perspective, the team suddenly has a vibrant view of the situation.

Tiger and Eeyore: Positivity + Deliberative

People with the positivity strength are always looking on the bright side of things, trying to bring hope amidst discouragement. 

Those with the deliberative strength interpret the world as a series of challenges and risks to be averted. In a desire to help, they can sound very negative.

The real danger on a team with both positivity and deliberative is that they will dismiss each other as being naive or overly worried.

Who’s the boss? Command + Self-Assurance

When you have the command strength, you have a strong desire to give direction, so there is a clear path forward. People with the self-assurance strength aren’t trying to tell others what to do, but they have an innate confidence in what they’re doing and will likely push back on those with command.

Don’t get run over. Command + Harmony.

Here again, people with the command strength wanted to give others direction on what to do. Unlike self-assurance, those with the harmony strength won’t push back at all. They will either get out of the way or get run over.

If you have command, especially if you are the leader, you must develop an awareness of other people’s strengths to anticipate their responses. 

Don’t run up the score. Competition + Harmony

If you have the strengthsFinder competition talent, then you love to compete, and you love to win. And to win means you’re beating someone else. 

When you have the harmony strength in your top 5, you focus more on the people than the outcome. If possible, someone with harmony hopes for a tie where everyone is a winner. 

Similar to those with the command strength, competition is at risk of running over or running up the score on those with harmony. 

Picking teams. Competition + Includer

Winning is the goal when you have the competition strength. To help you up your game, you want to play with similarly skilled people and have no trouble picking the best.

When it comes to the includer strength, everyone should have a chance to play, and they don’t want anyone to be left out.

As a servant leader, help your team members see the value each of their perspectives brings. There is likely a compromise between the Olympic team and the YMCA team. 

Finding a good rhythm: Consistency + Adaptability + Discipline.

Team members will each have a cadence to work and life than feels most comfortable. Some strengths influence this preferred cadence more than others.

Those who have the consistency strength are comfortable repeatedly doing the same thing.  Similarly, those with the discipline strength are most comfortable with routine. Both of these people tend to thrive when the schedule is consistent and predictable.

Now enters a teammate with the adaptability strength. They are super flexible, go with the flow, and are actually energized rather than overwhelmed by the chaos.

When someone with adaptability is on a team with someone who has either consistency or disciple, there can be some friction. The team member with adaptability may feel trapped if the team works in a strict routine. At the same time, those with consistency or discipline might become stressed by the unpredictability that the person with adaptability brings.

Looking for a friend: Relator + Woo

People with the relator strength prefer depth to breadth regarding relationships, and those with the woo strength are just the opposite. There’s no limit to how many people they want to meet.

So when a team includes people with both relator and woo, there will be mismatched expectations about relationships. 

Relators may think that woos are superficial because they bounce from person to person and don’t go that deep.  Woos may view Relators are clingy or exclusive because they keep their circle small.

The biggest thing a servant leader can do here is to help everyone on the team recognize and appreciate their differences. The uniquenesses of your teammates aren’t wrong. They are just different. 

What’s the problem? Strategic + Deliberative

Because of how someone with the strategic strength views problems, they almost automatically see the small and immediate threats. 

So when someone with the deliberative strength begins methodically working through the possible challenges from smallest to largest, their teammate has already turned them out before they get to the good stuff. 

Again this is where understanding one another is so critical. As a leader, facilitate a conversation between your team members with these strengths to identify a method they can use to communicate best and problem-solve together. 

Managing change: Ideation + Learner + Consistency + Discipline

Those with the strengths of ideation or learner are both magnets for and fountains of new ideas. Change and possibilities are energy-giving. 

But those with the strengths of consistency or discipline will thrive in stability and be drained by constant change. 

Team members with these strengths can help one another navigate change or lack thereof. They also need to be aware of how their actions impact each other. 

Processing information: Intellection + Communication

People who have the communication strength love to talk. It’s like breathing with sound. Communication is how they engage and process the world around them.

However, their teammates with the intellection strength need space and quiet to process deeply. 

When these two teammates understand each other’s needs to process or reflect, they can work together and find an interaction that helps both of them thrive. 

Where to focus: Restorative + Maximizer

The maximizer strength is all about moving something from average to become great. They’re all about transformation but are focused on the last mile of the race. 

Those with the restorative strength are energized by taking something broken and making it whole again. 

They both want transformation but differ on where to focus. When they understand the value one another brings, they can discover how to work together and own the whole process.

Your Strengths Have AntiPatterns

Learn to recognize behaviors when you're over-leveraging your strengths to the point that they become liabilities. And discover the path back to health.

Reserve your free copy of the Strengths AntiPattern Guide

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Learning Yourself

As a servant leader, knowing your own strengths and how they impact your team is the first step to effective leadership. 

At the core of strengths psychology is the idea that we will see a more significant benefit by leveraging our strengths than improving our weaknesses. I help leaders discover how they have been created, recognizing their design and how it shapes them.

Take some time with these reflection questions and ask yourself, “How do my strengths help me…”

  • Serve my team?
  • Make a lasting impact?
  • Build and maintain relationships?
  • Prevent and solve problems?
  • Get things done more efficiently?
  • Lead through difficulty or ambiguity?
  • Learn new skills?

People are a unique combination of aptitudes, backgrounds and experiences. Understanding your strengths allows you to see what is and could be possible. Recognizing what you and others on your team bring will enable you to identify your best contribution.

Writing out your combinations.

I'll take the team through some exercises to understand how particular strengths combine to enhance each other or create tension. This exercise works well to understand how these strengths work both within a person and a team.

Here is an example of how my talents combine to propel me forward.

  • belief + strategic: I plan from my values, allowing these values to be fundamental in my setting direction.
  • strategic + achiever: If my plans and strategies have clear, measurable outcomes, I will be more motivated to reach them.
  • learner + strategic: Learning is fun and enables me to discern the big picture as well as the details. It also allows me to apply my knowledge across specialties.

You will start to see a more nuanced picture of how these strengths are lived out together. 

Your strengths bio

The following exercise takes all the top five and writes them together as a single strengths bio. After writing it out, I encourage them to come up with a name that captures their combination of strengths.

Here's my strengths bio as an example...

My beliefs enable me to see clearly what I value and hope to be in the future. I strategically look at this end and plot a course from where I am in that direction. As a learner, I enjoy finding my way through new things on this journey. My talents of competition, achiever and belief propel me toward this future destination.

If you’re going to grow as a leader, you need to cultivate your strengths rather than focus on your weaknesses.

I titled this combination the "possibilities explorer." One time I added in the rest of my top 10 strengths to include focus, futuristic, analytical, restorative and ideation. This would be too many to focus on at once, but it helped me write a bio that I called the "solutions architect." This exercise has been very instructive for me as I've considered what kind of roles or projects I want to take on.

Strength informed roles

When you understand your strengths and how they impact your work, you can leverage that knowledge to find what roles or jobs are a good fit. 

Finding a job that fits your strengths can make you feel like you were made for that role. These are some questions for you to consider when thinking about your strengths and a possible role or job.

  • Would most of my strengths be utilized in this role?
  • Are there some strengths that wouldn’t get much use if I took a role like this? 
  • Are there aspects of this position that would be difficult for me to do?   
  • What things would I like to have added to this if I could?
  • What parts of the role do I imagine will feel natural or easy?
  • What parts of the role do I imagine will feel unnatural or create friction?
  • How would I feel in this type of role?

Learning your team

Growing your team is your best investment as a servant leader. This investment includes helping individual team members understand themselves and helping them understand their teammates. 

When team members see how the rest of the team operates and begin to discover how their collective strengths interact with each other, it opens up the potential for new levels of collaboration and impact. 

Identify your team’s top 5.

After working with each team member to understand their unique strength combinations, I like to shift the discussion to identify their team’s unique strength combination. 

I will aggregate the top 5 strengths of each person and calculate the top 5 strengths for the team. We will then facilitate a discussion about how these strengths play out. Here are some questions you could use. 

  • What patterns of behavior result from our top 5? 
  • How does it influence our communication?
  • Looking at our top 5, what drives and motivates us? 
  • How do we set direction and make decisions?
  • How do we overcome obstacles?
  • How do we build and maintain relationships?
  • How do we recognize each other and celebrate success?
  • As a team, what can we do to further capitalize on our strengths?

Writing your team’s strengths bio

After this discussion, I’ll usually ask everyone to individually write a strengths bio for the team as a whole. Writing the bio is much easy at this point because everyone has already written one for themselves.

Here’s a team strengths bio for a team I facilitated working on a college campus. The team’s top 5 strengths were: developer, belief, empathy, harmony and woo.

We are guided by our core values and compelled by a vision of others' redemptive potential. We meet people where they are building & establishing relationships and walk side by side with them in order for them to become who they were designed to be.

The danger of over-leveraging your strengths

Your new understanding of your strengths can be a great motivator and catalyst for growth. There is also a dark side to each strength when it's lived out in an unhealthy way.

Stress, fear or past experiences causes people to act like they're fighting for survival. We can begin to over-leverage our strengths. Command becomes domineering. Strategic becomes control; woo becomes manipulation. Input becomes inaction.

I call the strengths antipatterns, which exist for all 34 strengths.

When we live or lead in isolation, we are at a much greater risk of slipping into these strengths antipatterns.

I led and coached teams working abroad for many years, living and interacting in a new language and culture. This kind of environment creates a lot of stress. Understanding their strengths also allowed them to see where they will likely turn when they feel unsafe or uncertain.

The first time I went through these strengthsFinder exercises, I joked, "this feels more like a vice-finder than a strengths-finder." Seeing the dark side of your strengths can cause some people to feel shame. But understanding and naming the strengths antipatterns helps you shift from shame to growth. 

When we live or lead in isolation, we are at a much greater risk of over-leveraging our strengths. This reality is why feedback and alignment are so important to teams.

Establishing Rhythms of Growth

Developing your individual or team strengths isn’t a one-and-done activity. It’s an ongoing decision to be honest, evaluate and adapt. 

A little bit of structure can go a long way in creating a rhythm of growth. Here are a few options you can implement personally or on your team.

  • Reviews. Reviews are critical to growth in general. Update your daily, weekly or monthly reviews to include questions about developing and leveraging your strengths. 
  • Check-ins. If you’re not already doing daily check-ins or standups with your team, it’s probably time to start. You could add one question, “how did I leverage one of my strengths yesterday?”
  • Team events. Workshops or offsite retreats are an excellent opportunity to invest in your team. If your team has never learned about strengthsFinder before, hire a facilitator to lead you during your event. If you’ve already done a workshop before, set aside time during your event for your team to evaluate and adapt.
  • Feedback. Effective teams are built on healthy, timely feedback. Look through your current feedback process for opportunities to incorporate StrengthFinders content. 
  • Development plan. Next time your team members update their personal development plan, discuss how understanding your strengths informs what development opportunities they will pursue. 

Taking the next step to leveraging your strengths.

We’ve covered a lot, but there’s so much more to discover as you explore and level up your individual and team strengths. 

Here are some resources you can use in your journey. 

The most significant insight I hope teams have when we work through their strengths is this. 

We are better together. 

The temptation is to see my strengths as all I need.  I know I've struggled with this. But we need each other. This truth is why the team strengths bio is so powerful. They can recognize how they can serve and bring out the best in one another.

I hope you find these exercises helpful for both yourself and your team.

Your Strengths Have AntiPatterns

Learn to recognize behaviors when you're over-leveraging your strengths to the point that they become liabilities. And discover the path back to health.

Reserve your free copy of the Strengths AntiPattern Guide

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So do I totally ignore my weaknesses and just focus on my strengths?

Ignoring your weaknesses will likely get you into trouble.

Strengths-based growth doesn’t encourage you to ignore your weaknesses but not to spend too much time trying to turn them into strengths. Instead, you may need to find team members or systems to fill in your gaps.

There are strengths I think I have; why didn’t they didn’t show up in my top 5?

They could be somewhere in your list between 6-10.

For some people, their strengths ranked 5, 6 or 7 are almost even. You could also be misattributing a skill or behavior to a specific strength.

Should I pay to see all 34 strengths?

Start out staying focused on your top 5.

Seeing your other 29 strengths can help give you a fuller picture. But initially, someone should focus on further developing those top 5 strengths rather than trying to give attention across the list. Once you have a good grasp on what it looks like to lead from your top 5, it can be helpful to explore the rest of the list.

What’s the difference between a talent and a strength?

Talents can become strengths.

A talent is your natural way of thinking or behaving. A strength is a talent developed over time through knowledge, skills and practice.