Rather than immediately answering him, I paused and asked a question instead. “Do you think you are persistent?”
To which he immediately responded “Of course.”
After a brief pause, he hit me on the shoulder and said, “Stubborn and persistent are the same thing, aren’t they?”
This brief story sheds an important light on strengths, weaknesses, and labels – and points us to important thinking for us as individual achievers and leaders and coaches of others.
So, are persistent and stubborn the same thing?
Most everyone would call persistent a strength (in fact, in an often quoted list of researched personal strengths, it is one of the 24 (You can learn more and see the list here).
Yet most wouldn’t call stubborn a strength at all.
But what is the difference?
Timing, amount and context mostly.
So “persistent” is a good trait, but used too often or used (as perceived by others) at an inappropriate time or place, and it becomes “stubborn”.
This is just one example of how strengths can be overplayed or overused to create something not-quite-as-wonderful.
This list could be long – but here are a few to consider . . .
- Creative vs. Detail oriented
- Open-minded vs. Decisive
- Humility vs. Confidence
- Great listener vs. Great Speaker
- Leader vs. Follower
The first three pairs on this short list start with other traits from the list of 24 listed above, and in each case I believe you can build a scenario similar to persistent vs. stubborn.
Except . . .
An Additional Observation
There is a big difference in the 5 pairs of traits above, when compared to persistent vs. stubborn.
Do you see it?
The difference is that all ten of the traits above can be seen as a strength or a weakness, depending on perspective, and again; timing of use, amount of use and the context the behavior is used in.
Perhaps the best way to look at our strengths then, is as a strength, and as a potential weakness as well.
Stated another way, a strength overused, might be a weakness.
Let’s make this idea more tangible.
If I am a really good speaker, when I want to influence someone, what will I likely do? Speak more. What might I forget to do? Listen. Since, in the moment, I can’t do both, when I lean on my strength too much or at the wrong times, it may become a weakness.
Examples exist far beyond the limits of what I’ve listed here. You won’t have to think very long to think of many examples of your friends, co-workers and yourself.
How Can We Use This Insight?
Much has been written about recognizing strengths. It is important and useful to do that, but that isn’t enough. Here is what you can do:
As an individual you can . . .
- Make sure you understand your strengths (make a list and ask others for their input).
- Ask others what they see as your strengths.
- Think about the risks associated with over-using those strengths.
- Identify specific situations where you over-use a strength.
- Make sure you understand your weaknesses (again, make a list and ask others for their input).
- Think about how your weakness can be a strength.
- With these new insights, make an improvement and growth plan based on a balanced focus on both strengths and weaknesses.
As a leader/coach you can . . .
- Help your team members understand their strengths and weaknesses.
- Examine your own perspective and the labels you use to describe your team members to make sure you are truly seeing people’s strengths as well as weaknesses.
- Help your team members do the other steps listed above – leading to a plan of action for maximizing strengths, as well as working on weaknesses
Strengths matter and we should leverage them whenever we can; and like a rubber band, when we stretch our strengths too far, bad things could happen.
photo credit: Mesho0o0