Tony arrives late for his coaching session and he rushes in sweating, puffing and panting, digging around in his bag for his notes, grabbing his phone to switch it off and apologising profusely for being late. Sound like anyone in your workplace?
No big deal right? Most people run late some of the time don’t they? Only this is the 3rd time Tony has arrived in this stressed state and by now I’m curious if this is just a coincidence or is it a pattern of behaviour, so I ask Tony if we can put aside our session agenda for a while to explore this.
Tony says he feels awful about being late and we discover this happens at nearly all his meetings. “So if we added all the time you spend feeling awful each week about being late, how much time are we talking about Tony?” Silence follows while the mental cogs turn as the connections are made between all the instances in his life and then he responds “Well I’m always a little bit late but it’s not really a problem for me”. Hmm now I’m even more curious?
We get on a roll with the coaching conversation and discover a key contributing factor is his caring nature. As he’s running (often literally) out the door, he gets caught up with people stopping by to grab a quick 5 minutes with him, or he is compelled to take the 5 minute phone call that turns into 15 or 20 minutes and he can’t say no to them. Now here’s the weird thing…on the surface that’s got to be a leadership strength doesn’t it? Yes, it’s found that people feeling cared for is fundamental to them wanting to follow you. Yet Tony gets into a bind when he is giving to some people and taking away from others including himself, without discrimination or boundaries
In Relationship Awareness Theory, Dr Elias Porter posits that an overdone strength is a behaviour intended as a strength but which is perceived negatively by self or others.
So Tony and I discuss if this is negatively impacting him and others and this is what he found happens when he cares indiscriminately: –
He takes time away from his own development e.g. loosing precious coaching time.
He feels frustrated and a victim to others demands on his time when he can’t say no.
He feels bad about breaking agreements for starting meetings at the agreed time.
He tells himself that it is bad to prioritise his own needs over others’ needs.
He says if he is really honest, he is known amongst his work colleagues and friends as ‘the late guy’ and that’s not a reputation that sits comfortably with him.
Geez that’s a lot of conflict to experience about one seemingly innocuous overdone strength!
Once aware of the impact of an overdone strength, it allows us to make new choices and develop new behaviours that support better outcomes in leadership. The choices Tony made were about bringing the strength of ‘caring’ back into balance so that he still felt care for others, only not at the expense of caring for himself. He set boundaries about when it’s appropriate for him to say “No”, “How urgent is this” or perhaps “No, not right at this moment but can it wait until after my meeting?” He practiced coaching his team to become more resourceful people by asking them how they could tackle their issues, rather than taking on the full responsibility himself for coming up with the resolutions.
Over time he began to notice that when he was on time it gave people the best of what he had to offer because he arrived in his best mind, body emotion state which allowed him to improve the quality of his input at meetings, including his coaching sessions. He reframed all of that and he made the changes he wanted, to his full credit.
The word ‘weakness’ gets bandied around in leadership contexts whereas using the term overdone strengths invites a conversation that creates new understandings of what motivates us to behave a certain way. With greater awareness we get to choose more resourceful ways of responding in the workplace and in life.