Is there a risk in leading from strength? I’m starting to think so. I’ve worked with hundreds of team leaders over the years and almost all of them have been decent, nice, well-meaning people who take their responsibility as leaders seriously. But most of them lead from their own strengths and lack the self-awareness and skills to lead in service of others. How much is your leadership style about your needs versus the needs of your team members?

When It’s About You

What do I mean, “lead from your strengths?” Well, I mean that you act in a way that gets your needs met without thinking about the needs of your team. Here are some of the most common examples:

“I don’t need a lot of feedback.”

It’s good for you if you don’t need a lot of reinforcement and recognition to keep up the fight. But maybe your team members and colleagues do. And if so, when you fail to celebrate or even notice their contributions, you leave them questioning whether they’re hitting the mark or whether their efforts are worth it.


“I prefer small group interactions.”

Ok, that’s fair. You don’t need to have your whole posse huddled around to make you feel part of something bigger. But what if your preference for one-on-one conversations and hub-and-spoke leadership means that you’re the only one on the team who can see the full picture?


“I’m still good, let’s have a working lunch…and dinner.”

You’re the Energizer Bunny, great. But just because you need to go non-stop for 18 hours a day to burn off your energy, it doesn’t mean that it works for everyone else. Who’s dropping off the back of the pack while you’re running out ahead?


“I don’t need a lot of time to prepare.”

Cool. Other people do. When you expect them to chime in on the spot, you deny them the opportunity to give you their best input. You get a less potent version of their value.


“I’m happy, but never satisfied. I need to keep pushing myself.”

Yup, always another mountain to climb. What about the people who feel that their efforts are invalidated by your failure to celebrate? Do they deserve to feel less successful?


“I can juggle many balls. I need to have a lot going on.”

I’m sure you can. How are you helping the people who are at their best when they can focus in on a clear priority? Are you diluting their efforts?


I could go on and on…all with real lines I’ve heard from leaders; many in the last month.

It’s Not About You

It’s important as a human being to get your needs met. I’m not asking you to ignore your own needs just because you’re a leader. However, I’m urging you, because you are a leader, to not stop there. Think about how meeting your needs might mean you’re neglecting the needs of others. If you want the best out of your team, you can’t simply build your practices around your own preferences.

It’s About Them

To do a better job of meeting everyone’s needs, try implementing some of the following:

  • Use an assessment tool to increase your team’s awareness of their own and everyone’s needs. (Ideally, use an assessment tool like the Birkman® or the Hogan® that goes deeper than style and gets at underlying needs.)
  • Discuss your individual styles and needs in your one-on-one meetings with team members. Share your defaults and encourage people to advocate when they need something different than what you naturally offer.
  • Build some of your core processes to counteract your blind spots. For example, if you don’t need a lot of positive feedback, make celebrating and sharing of success an agenda item on your recurring meetings.
  • Establish code language that the team can use to humorously point out your bad habits.
  • Deputize someone on the tasks that you don’t do well.
  • Enlist a coach to help you become more aware of your biases and help you stay accountable to yourself to modify your behavior.

When a leader tells me (often bragging) about how they don’t need feedback, or they don’t need time to prepare, or they don’t need a bathroom break in a 4-hour meeting, I smile. “That’s nice,” I say, “It’s not about you.”

Further Reading

In the mirror: Are you the tortoise or the hare?

In the mirror: How much is enough structure?

Leading Through Change Part I: Take Time to Reflect