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Strengths Overused

Updated: 7 days ago

Nathan is trying too hard to be the opposite of his father (who is also his boss.)


Nathan came to coaching because he struggled to make decisions.  A gifted excel modeler, he grew concerned that if he looked up "analysis paralysis" on Wikipedia, he’d find his picture.  He built brilliant models to analyze the marketplace, but when it came down to making a decision, he would kick the can by identifying more data to collect and better models to build. 


Over time, Nathan realized that his obsession with analysis was due to an aversion to “just winging it,” which is how he described his father’s leadership.  Liam, his dad, used gut instinct to lead their family business.  There was no planning, no data; he shot from the hip using pure intuition when recognizing an opportunity.  “That’s just who I am,” says Liam.


That scares Nathan.  As a kid, he watched Liam hit some home runs and some duds, but mostly, Liam landed somewhere in between.  Neither a success nor failure; the business mostly broke even. 


Nathan knew he could add value to the family business by bringing structured analysis to decision making.  But it’s not working.  Not only is Nathan indecisive, his relationship with his dad is rancorous because Liam won’t engage in strategic planning conversations with Nathan.  Liam’s lack of patience or interest in strategy infuriates Nathan.

Strengths Overused

Strengths Overused

Although Nathan and Liam prefer opposite poles of an Analysis :: Intuition polarity, both men are in the overuse of their preferred pole.


Liam’s shoot-from-the-hip style of leadership has some upsides.  It’s nimble and low-cost in the near term.  But he has some blind spots about the value of intuition. Sprinkling even a little analysis could help him make better investment choices and safeguard against his over-focus on possibilities.


Nathan’s preference for analysis has some upsides too.  It’s data-driven and theoretically less emotional.  But Nathan has some blind spots about the value of analysis.  Accessing even a little gut instinct could help him shift out of paralysis and safeguard against his over-focus on risk.


These generational swings in leadership styles are common in family businesses.  When children witness the overuse of a parent’s value or style, they naturally swing the opposite direction, but they often over-correct. 


I sure did. 


When I worked for my father, all I could see were the overuses of his disruptive, controlling, bold leadership.  It’s no wonder I strove for stability, collaboration, and humility.  “It’s just who I am,” I thought.  I identified with these traits, as if they defined me.  In fact, they are the same traits I’d use to describe my grandfather.  Hmm.


I didn’t realize that stability :: disruption, collaborate :: control, and humble :: bold were leadership polarities.  I just knew I was right, and my dad was wrong.  (Nathan believes the same thing about his dad.)


At the time, my preference for stability, collaboration and humility served the business well because it balanced my father’s overuse of disruption, controlling and bold.   However, it didn’t serve my relationship with my father well because we each believed the other to be wrong.  Very wrong.


Had I understood leadership polarities back then, I might have appreciated and acknowledged the value of my father’s leadership preferences.  And maybe he’d have respected mine. 


But that was over a decade ago.  Now, I understand how polarities operate, and I am careful not to fall into the overuse of stability, collaboration, and humility. 


For example, I’m disrupting my cozy life by publishing a book about polarities.  Hug of War comes out July 12th, and my calendar is filled with speaking on podcasts, activating my book launch team, and building author pages on Amazon, Facebook and LinkedIn.  When the book opened for pre-sales last week, I activated my launch team: “Order my book now!”  That felt uncomfortably controlling.  (Fortunately, they are all volunteers.)  I’ve even found the courage to ask people for book endorsements.  Bold!  Awkward for me!  And oddly humbling because the quotes have been so touching.


Expanding Identity

Although I’ll always prefer stability, collaboration, and humility, I’m expanding my identity to include disruption, commanding and bold.  This helps me operate in the world with greater effectiveness.


As for Nathan, he’s learning about polarities now too.  He has zoomed out and can see how he and his father complement each other; how their individual preferences can enhance their effectiveness.  Plus, he’s sharing what he’s learning with his father, which helps them both expand their identities. 


While Nathan is recognizing the value of intuition, Liam is recognizing the value of analysis.  They are learning how to learn from each other and leverage their respective strengths.  It’s a slow process because both men are reactive and defensive when the other reveals their blind spots.  After all, one’s identity can be an awfully tender topic.


To learn more about leadership polarities and strengths overused in a family business, join my mailing list. That should tide you over until Hug of War: Leading a Family Business With both Love and Logic is released in July. (Pre-sales are open on Amazon and Barnes & Noble!)


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