When Strengths are Misunderstood

My son has a board book called “Baby Penguins Everywhere.” It’s the story of one lonely penguin, who suddenly finds herself surrounded by dozens and dozens of baby penguins. At first, she is happy for the company. They play in the snow, making snowballs, sliding down hills, and doing other things animated penguins do.

At one point however, our main character finds herself needing a break. All of that stimulation has left her exhausted and she feels guilty for hiding from the baby penguins. We see her with a pained expression on her face as she hides behind a snowbank while the poor baby penguins frantically search for her.

When Leaders Need a Break

How many of you can relate to this? Perhaps you’re in a role that requires you to be around people and “on” all day. You might be the leader of a group, with people constantly coming to you with questions, ideas or problems. This, “we need you” environment probably leaves you drained at the end of the day. Like the penguin, you may need your own snow bank to hide from those you’re supposed to be leading.

We were working with a client once, and during our 1 to 1o conversation, he made the off-handed comment, “I really don’t like people.” When I pressed him further he said something to the effect of, “they are constantly pressing me for things that I don’t know how to give them.”

When Strengths are Misunderstood

As it turns out, three of his StrengthsFinder themes were Deliberative, Analytical and Input. Now, we believe there aren’t any best “leadership” themes, but if misunderstood, some can find themselves in the type of position as this leader.


What we discovered through the course of our engagement was that he needed time to think, and process before making a decision. The people he was leading were expecting him to make quick decisions, without having all the information. They wanted his instant feedback in the moment.

Strengths Discovery

What I helped him discover, and his team to understand, was that if he was given a deadline when he needed to provide an answer or make a decision, 9 times out of 10, he would deliver a fantastic solution. The team validated, and were able to give some very specific examples during the 360 feedback session.

After a few weeks of “practice,” he found that he was actually happier. His team no longer “ambushed” him with rapid fire questions, and he began to seek out others to gather input so he could make better, quicker decisions. He began to like his job better, was more engaged, and no longer dreading the moment someone would be at his office door.

Working as a Team

The book ends with the penguin realizing that it’s ok to need a break from the other people, but at the end of the day, things were a lot more fun with them. One of the tremendous take-aways from strengths is that when you know how your strengths work, you are better able to understand what you can contribute to a team. When the team understands each other, you begin to expect the best part from each member. There is significant potential for growth and enhanced results.

Can you relate to this? What “a-ha” moments have you had with Strengths?