Any leader who relies too heavily on his or her strengths will turn those strengths into weaknesses, explain leadership development and executive coaching experts Bob Kaplan and Rob Kaiser in their groundbreaking new book "The Versatile Leader: Make the Most of Your Strengths Without Overdoing It" (Pfeiffer/Wiley; May 12, 2006). Their decades of practice and research with leaders prove a solid connection between leadership versatility and effectiveness – and an equally strong connection between a lack of versatility and stalled or derailed careers.
What happens when you have too much of a good thing?
Any leader who relies too heavily on his or her strengths will turn those strengths into weaknesses, explain leadership development and executive coaching experts Bob Kaplan and Rob Kaiser in their groundbreaking new book The Versatile Leader: Make the Most of Your Strengths Without Overdoing It (Pfeiffer/Wiley; May 12, 2006). Their decades of practice and research with leaders prove a solid connection between leadership versatility and effectiveness – and an equally strong connection between a lack of versatility and stalled or derailed careers.
Kaplan and Kaiser deliver a unique addition to the genre of leadership books, examining an aspect of leadership development that helps leaders avoid becoming “lopsided” – using too much of one attribute and in the process crowding out an essential complementary skill. The authors demonstrate how leaders can achieve the right blend of complementary skills and attributes at the right time to be consistently successful.
The Next Generation of Leadership Development
Kaplan and Kaiser point out a curious omission in leadership assessment. They report that leaders owe it themselves to discover which strengths they overuse, but to date assessment tools fail to capture strengths overused. This eye-opening book offers a practical way to rectify this problem by introducing the principle of “volume control.” To perform effectively on any dimension of leadership, leaders need to adjust the volume to the right setting for the situation – neither too low nor too high.
The principle of volume control also helps leaders avoid what the authors call “the gravitational pull of negative feedback.” Many leaders underestimate their strengths, and as a result are unaware that they are overdoing it – that the volume is too high. Feedback on leadership positives, and not just the negatives, will help leaders become more aware of the impact of their strengths. To correct a tendency to overdo it, then, leaders need to truly let their strengths sink in.
Kaplan and Kaiser point out that when a leader takes his or her greatest capability too far – when a strength is overused – the result is lopsided leadership: the strong, take-charge leader fails to empower his employees, for example, or the results-focused leader fails to plan for the long-term.
Leadership versatility, as defined by the authors, means achieving a balance between pairs of competencies or aptitudes that complement each other. The human tendency is to heavily favor one side or the other – to be, for instance, detail-oriented but never seeing the big picture or visionary but never paying attention to details. Versatile leaders learn not only how to have enough of both sides of the pair, but also how to avoid having too much of one side.
Although leaders are familiar with the idea of versatility, or balance, the field of leadership development has overlooked it. Leaders are assessed in terms of single dimensions, not pairs of complementary attributes. In The Versatile Leader, Kaplan and Kaiser offer practical methods to ensure a two-sided approach to leadership assessment and development – an approach that allows leaders to learn not only how to turn up the volume on weak skills, but when to turn down the volume on their overused strengths.
TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING? A CASE STUDY IN LEADERSHIP
“Rich Spire” has all the attributes of a great leader. He is a sharp strategist, quick to identify or anticipate opportunities for the future. He’s not afraid of making bold moves, but knows the difference between being bold and being rash. He excites people with his vision and ideas. He exudes power and energy. And, finally, he doesn’t just talk: Rich knows how to turn ideas into action.
Despite these impressive attributes, Rich’s leadership is at times ineffective and counterproductive — and ironically it’s his very strengths that hurt him. His bold strategic moves sometimes overwhelm the operational capabilities of his company. And his power and charisma overwhelm attempts by his staff to influence him or contribute in meetings.
About the Authors
Bob Kaplan is a partner with Kaplan DeVries Inc., which specializes in leadership consulting for individual executives and management teams. Previously, Kaplan had a senior role at the Center for Creative Leadership, where he is presently honorary senior fellow. He has consulted to many top executives over the years and is the author of numerous articles as well as the book, Beyond Ambition: How Driven Managers Can Lead Better and Live Better.
Rob Kaiser, also a partner with Kaplan DeVries Inc., is director of research and development. He formerly served as an adjunct research scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership.
THE VERSATILE LEADER: Make the Most of Your Strengths Without Overdoing It
By Bob Kaplan, with Rob Kaiser
May 12, 2006
ISBN: ISBN: 0-7879-7944-9
Price: $40.00; hardcover www.versatileleader.com