Let’s now move on to the second reason why relying on strengths alone is a path that may lead to performance disappointment, dispassion, and missed expectations.
Success in life and on the job is about dealing with challenges. The bigger the challenge, the more likely it is that success is dependent on the effort applied. Effort requires personal drive, commitment, resilience, and optimism.
We all likely know people who are paralyzed when confronted by a challenge. Some may even be puzzled and overwhelmed when it comes to making a simple decision. Oddly enough, many high-potentials just stop making the effort. It’s not that can’t do it. The problem is they won’t. It’s like being gifted the finest set of craftsman tools but never using them because it takes too much time and effort to learn what they do.
Why would I say that a significant reason why so my high potentials fail is lack of effort?
Because it’s true.
Recent studies have shown that individuals identified as high-potentials often fail to meet expectations – their own and others. It doesn’t take much digging to find a manager with a tale about how his up-and-coming protégé flamed out.
Once identified and labeled as a high potential, the tendency is to put these employees on a pedestal. They are awarded different privileges. They are offered more resources. They are provided an almost endless list of opportunities to succeed but few to fail. They are protected from the challenges that other people might face and endure.
Managers protect high-potentials like helicopter parents protect their kids. They don’t want anything to happen to their precious high potential employee. They don’t want the high-potential to become discouraged. They want their high potentials to achieve that “near-perfect” performance status.
For many, identifying high potentials is like getting engaged. There is an exaggerated sense of euphoria and optimism when you meet that special someone. Partners only see and experience the potential and overlook the faults. Each participant does his and her best to make their “high-potential” look good. The better their high-potential looks, the better they look. Managers also want to look good so they court and embrace the high-potential. High potentials are a manager’s diamond in the rough.
Ultimately high-potentials are set up to succeed when the sun is shining. But when the clouds turn black and the rain pours down, they fail to thrive. They can’t afford to be wrong or make a mistake so they hide (or ignore), not manage, their shortcomings and weaknesses. To admit they don’t know something is a blemish on their record. Since they are considered the most talented, the golden boys, the heir-apparent, admitting a weakness or a mistake indicates they are less than perfect.
The identity and self-esteem of a high potential is tied to his strengths. Anything short of “near-perfect” performance is seen as failure. A simple admission of weakness or a small faux-paus is unacceptable.
This fear of challenge or failure is legendary. High potentials begin to avoid taking any risks that might lead to embarrassment or show vulnerability. Their focus and goal becomes protecting their identity and self-esteem, not venturing out and learning from new opportunities.
When things don’t work out and make them look good, they blame others or events beyond their control. They cover up mistakes.
Another problem with focusing only on strengths is that all strengths are not created equal. Yes, it’s important to know your strengths but what happens when the role or job changes… And change seems to be an everyday occurrence these days. Every day is filled with uncertainty, ambiguity, and complexity. Very few jobs are routine and predictable. New jobs, new team members, new variable environmental factors all converge, demanding a diversity of different strengths and abilities. In today’s economy, a job description today is likely to change tomorrow. Strengths that work today may become inadequate tomorrow. It is even likely that some functions of the job will be more complex each day while other functions may become extinct or irrelevant.
What’s equally important is that some weaknesses can hold more weight than all the strengths combined. In other words, the power of five strengths can be trumped by a critical weakness. For example a lack of empathy or poor connection with other people has crippled and even toppled many executives who have built empires from the ground up. It can take only a little crack in a giant’s armor to bring him down.
The problem with relying on your strengths doesn’t just stop at the risk of ignoring your weaknesses.
Overreliance on strengths is troublesome too. It is likely you know many high potentials who are so self-assured (one of StrengthsFinders themes) they become arrogant and cocky. Or what about the individual reliant on the “deliberative” theme who carries caution over the top until he becomes the pessimist and is paralyzed with analysis? Or what about the individual who thrives on “discipline” to the point of stalling change?
That brings us to Rule #2 – Reliance on strengths is a comfortable road to success. But it’s not a safe and secure one. It causes many careers to plateau. Thanks to an erroneous belief that raw talent overcomes all obstacles, many high potentials fail due to a lack of effort and fear of failure.