Can Strengths Be Misused?


The strengths movement has been an important part of organizational leadership for the past few decades. The premise of strengths-based teams is that the most effective method for motivating people is to build on their strengths rather than correcting their weaknesses. The movement has affected business, government, education, and health care. Marcus Buckingham and the Gallop Organization have been the major proponents of the movement. Rodney Cox of Ministry Insights has developed the Leading From Your Strengths profile to help leaders discover their strengths and blend them with others to maximize their effectiveness.

But what happens if someone misuses his strengths?  This happens when we are under pressure, tension, stress, or fatigued. Jonathan Knaupp has given us some insight in his Personality Array. He says this usually happens when our basic personality needs have not been met or when things don’t go our way and we are tired and worn down. Here are some examples of how different individuals misuse or overuse their strengths.

  1. For individuals whose dominant strengths are their caring, nurturing, harmonizing, and predictable approach, they will over adapt, try to please, make mistakes and become self defeating.
  2. For individuals whose dominant strengths are their logical, structured, organized and ambitious approach, they will become over critical, over work, be perfectionist, and demanding.
  3. For individuals whose dominant strengths are their spontaneous, creative, enthusiastic, and optimistic approach, they will become disruptive, blame, be irresponsible, and defiant.
  4. For individuals whose dominant strengths are their quiet, insightful, reflective, and structured approach, they will disengage, withdraw, and become despondent.

How can the misuse of strengths be prevented? How can individuals who are misusing their strengths be motivated? Basically their personality needs must be addressed. Here are some ways we can meet the needs of individuals who have misused or overused their strengths. Team leaders and team members can use these to encourage and motivate each other when our needs are not being met.

  1. For individuals whose needs are friendships and sensory experience (#1 above), we need to value their feelings, have them work with a friend, and share time with them.
  2. For individuals whose needs are task completion and time schedules (#2 above), we need to value their ideas, give them incentives, schedules, and to-do lists.
  3. For individuals whose needs are contact with people and fun activities (#3 above), we need to value their activity and give them hands-on activities, group interaction, and a change in routine.
  4. For individuals whose needs are alone time and stability (#4 above), we need to value their privacy, give them independent activity, specific directions, and routine tasks.

One of the best ways we can prevent the misuse or overuse of our strengths is to position ourselves in a team with complementary strengths. Peter Drucker has said that “the purpose of a team is to make the strengths of each person effective and his or her weaknesses irrelevant.”

Despite the risks of misusing our strengths, capitalizing on our strengths is still the best way to improve our effectiveness as individuals and teams. For additional articles on teams visit

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