When Strength Becomes Weakness

Businesses and organizations employ a number of strength assessments such as strength finders, the DiSC assessment, Work Place Big 5, and many others to determine the areas where employees thrive, the traits that individuals naturally possess, the strengths that allow those individuals to succeed. Churches use them to identify giftings so the congregation can better understand how they can serve the church and others.

I have taken many of these types of assessments and I always find value in the results. Putting names to certain natural talents and understanding the impact of those talents can be immensely helpful, especially in positions of leadership. But we live in a society that often places too much emphasis on "playing to your strengths" and those areas where we are so gifted can become the very things that destroy our opportunities for growth and success. There is a subtle arrogance that lurks in all of us, and if we don't keep it in check, that arrogance becomes the foundation for blind spots related to our strengths. In essence, our greatest strengths become our most devastating weaknesses.

“Strength in weakness” sounds counter-intuitive, especially in our culture. A culture that often praises beauty, money, clothes, gadgets, and status. A culture where those with assets, possessions, superior strength, and superior minds are seen as the strong, and the strong will survive, right? Not necessarily.

Faith in one’s self often leads to one’s demise. When we begin to think we have it all together, when our strengths fill us with the perception that “we” are all we need, those strengths become the very reason we find ourselves outmatched, we find ourselves falling, we find ourselves broken, we find ourselves alone.

The reliance on our strengths often leads to situations where we don't think we need help, we don't see the value others perceptions or opinions may have, or we get so far gone within our strengths that they begin to affect our personal lives.

I have taken Strength Finders several times and each time empathy is my number one. Empathy refers to having insight into another's emotional state without sharing it. When I was working in healthcare administration, this was incredibly helpful as I navigated tough conversations with physicians or families. But when I lean too far into empathy, I begin to take on the stress or pain of others. If I'm not careful, I begin to project those feelings into my own relationships with my wife or kids.

A good friend of mine is incredibly gifted in the area of administration and is a remarkable communicator. He runs a tight ship at his business. Everyone knows their expectations, communication is clear and concise, deadlines are met. But he sometimes takes the same administrative approach at home. He plays to his strengths and runs the home like he would his business. Opportunities for real honest conversations are often lost when he doesn't separate his approach to work from his approach to his marriage or parenting.

I've seen pastors gifted with so much woo, it's impossible not to like them and yet they press so deeply into relationships that they fail to run the business of the church and be effective administrators because their vision is clouded. 

The overuse or over-reliance on any strengths will always lead to a weakness but because the area is seen as a strength, we are often unaware of the ill effects. 

Confidence can lead to arrogance

Being a visionary can lead to dreaming with no execution 

If you’re gifted with words, you can talk too much

If you’re organizationally gifted, you can be inflexible

Intense focus on detail can lead to rigidity

A strong drive for results can lead to steamrolling others

Directness can lead to insensitivity

Inquisitiveness can lead to being over critical

A strong sense of independence and drive can make you a poor team player

Patience can lead to complacency

Cooperative nature can lead to conflict avoidance

Many families suffer because of an intense work ethic, where mothers and fathers find themselves spending more time and energy in their jobs than they invest in their marriages or parenting. Often this is because it is easier to "play to your strengths" at work than in your personal life.

Ask yourself, "what are my strengths?" and then look for the downside to your gifts. If you can't find one, keep looking, there is always a downside. If you still can't find it, it's time for a gut check about that arrogance I mentioned earlier. When we see how our strengths, when left unchecked, can lead to negative effects, we're moving in the right direction.