Are You Overplaying?

How talented business owners may be stagnating their company’s growth

As a small or mid-size business owner, when was the last time you gave attention to your personal development? You probably have been growing your business and developing managers but putting yourself aside because you have other priorities. You’re too busy running your business, right?

You may be thinking that you’ve grown a great deal by leading and fostering your business, and you have. But could you be even more of an asset by looking at how you could improve? We all have strengths and shortcomings that we recognize in ourselves. Self-awareness is good. Have you ever considered that one of your strengths may actually have jumped the shark (remember that Happy Days episode?) and is getting in the way of you achieving more of your business goals?

How does a strength flip on you and why?

It’s called overplaying a strength. Overusing a strength is an easy trap to fall into. You’ve received rewards throughout your career for your strengths. You’ve received approval from someone who was important to you, won a new customer account because you persevered or a completed project because of your problem-solving skills. You may even have been positively influenced by people suggesting you’re skilled enough to start your own business. This all feels good and we innately want to continue to get positive recognition.

Now, compare the accolades you’ve gotten with the number of discussions you’ve had about one of your shortcomings. Typically, discussions on a person’s flaws occur infrequently, maybe once or twice a year if you had development discussions. No wonder you play to your strengths. Most leaders have been recognized and rewarded to continue the behavior as they make their way to the top position or establish their own businesses. And they do the same with their managers. Positive reinforcement is beneficial in many ways and isn’t bad especially when it’s balanced with talk of areas for growth.

What does overplaying a strength look like?

Some commonly overplayed strengths include taking action, perseverance, fairness, listening, and negotiating. On the surface, all good strengths to have. But when you’re running your own business, overusing these skills can confuse or annoy your employees, interfere with work getting done and hamper getting the best out of your employees.

I’ll give you an example involving perseverance. Do you know a person whose name immediately comes to mind when you think of the word determination? Do you have positive or negative feelings about that person? What do you and their co-workers think about working with them? If you have a positive reaction, the person probably is using their skill of determination appropriately. Overusing the skill may be in play if you have a negative reaction. You may feel the person is like a dog with a bone or won’t let up until they get what they want. This behavior may cause others to give in or shut down. In any situation, but especially in your business, the reaction of giving in or shutting down because of someone else’s behavior doesn’t end up serving the business well. Would you want your people to be prevented from providing their best information and advice because another co-worker was dominating the project? What if that person is YOU? Overplaying a skill can be harmful if not checked.

How do you know if you’re overplaying a skill?

It can be relatively easy if you look at the challenges you have in your business and have had in previous roles. If there are issues that keep coming up over and over again, then that’s where you need to look. In your current business are you unintentionally interfering with those issues getting resolved? You can ask your employees what needs to change to grow the business or the most challenging issue they have in getting what they need from you. You can do a leadership assessment. Or, one of the most helpful books I’ve used for my own and other employees’ development is FYI For Your Improvement. I’ve relied on this book and recommended it for years. If you’re a reader, this book will help you determine if you need to develop a skill, are at the right skill level or overplaying it.

What’s important is that you take the time to look at the skills you need to improve and then invest the time to develop or rein in those skills. It’s good for you and it’s good for your business.

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