Leadership, HTLYC, Young Professionals

Don't let your strengths sabotage your success

How what we’re good at can prevent us breaking through to meet bigger challenges.

“When I started here seven years ago, it was no effort for me to contribute well to meetings,” Joanna told me. “Now I am terribly nervous about speaking up in meetings and I say as little as possible, and my boss has told me it makes me look ineffective, although I’m really not.”

In between those early days of her easy contribution with positive impact, and today’s painful embarrassment, we discovered the problem. In the words of Marshall Goldsmith: what got you here won’t get you there - at least not by itself!


As we progress, the nature of the work we do gradually gets more challenging and we need to perform at a higher level. That is usually fine, because we know more and we develop the capacity to perform as we learn the job. But we need to ensure that this capacity is not like a large glass, able to hold a pint but only filled with a half.

In Joanna’s case, she had taken for granted her capacity to contribute without preparing in advance. She now needed to make the time for proper preparation since the topics and the environment demanded more of her. Her natural strength had carried her so far, but without support, it couldn’t get her any further. Fortunately, once she started preparing, her confidence returned and she started having the impact she wanted and made her full contribution to the meetings.


Another client, Anne, was having difficulty explaining herself clearly to colleagues. She confused them with her descriptions of problems and solutions that seemed impossible to unravel from each other. After we talked, it turned out that Anne had a fantastic memory and had never got into the habit of taking notes. There had been no need to, when she recalled everything easily. However, with the increasing complexity of her work as she moved up the career ladder, it got harder to remember and mentally organise her thinking. Muddled thinking gave muddled communication. Fortunately, the remedy couldn’t be simpler – Anne started a note-taking habit and found a structure to help communicate typical scenarios with the team. By supporting her strength with some useful processes, she is well on her way to correcting the perception that she wasn’t ‘on top’ of her job.


Mark was a smart and responsible guy working as a business partner in a corporate function. Over time, he took on more and more responsibility and eventually wanting coaching for stress. He had become so good at solving people’s problems that everyone came to him seeking support with a whole range of issues. As a result, Mark spent his time listening, advising and counselling, trying to figure out how people’s situations could be improved – it was exhausting! He needed to counter-intuitively stop playing to his natural strength as a problem-solver and develop greater skill in helping people solve their own problems. He might not have been seen as a hero any more, but his real impact became far greater because colleagues learnt from him how to be more independent and responsible themselves. His new perspective enabled him to be seen as more strategic too, rather than as someone who only played ‘down in the weeds’. The change was good for his stress and good for his career.