The ugly side of strengths

I’m at the RESET Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. Yesterday started off a little slow. Today has definitely picked up. But let me draw attention to a challenge from Cobie Langerak last night.

She moved pretty quickly in the TED-style format, and some of what she said was just phrases she didn’t have time to unpack. I suspect I’ll go back to her material more than anything so far. The phrase that caught my attention was when she said that we love to focus on strengths and gifts, but we never talk about career derailers. “Career derailers” was on my radar because the phrase is used in the books Topgrading by Smart and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Goldsmith. But she’s right – I never taught anything about it in leadership development, except to do some personal reflection and to apply it to a few coaching situations with others with whom I have earned the right to speak into their lives.

She also said that our derailers often correspond to our strengths. Come to think of it, I have taught that, using the term “idols” instead of derailers. A while ago, God exposed the truth that all of the idols I struggle with tie directly to my strengths. In fact, I think of The Screwtape Letters, where C.S. Lewis drew attention to Satan’s jujitsu-like methodology. When we find a good thing, his strategy is to embrace it and keep us moving past the point of virtue until it becomes a vice. Let me give some examples.

  • Where God has given me Strategic strengths, I turn them into control and manipulation.
  • Where God has given me Achiever strengths, I make everything about me. Combined with my other strength of competition, this one can be deadly in terms of career advancement.
  • Where God has given me Futurist strengths, I try to plan beyond what God has shown me about the future.
  • Where God has given me Woo strengths, I try to please people rather than God.

Goldsmith says that the strengths that got you here can turn on you at the next level, limiting your success. If you don’t confront and deal with them, you won’t get where you want to go. But I think Lewis and Langerak have it right: there are spiritual bases to these derailers. You have to deal with your tendency toward idolatry and sin. If you don’t ruthlessly expose them, your own success and the success of your organization is at stake.