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When Virtues Are Overdone

Are there any pure assets when it comes to personality?  Or, can certain characteristics that are generally considered to be desirable become a liability?   For instance, can the quest for excellence become paralyzing perfectionism?  Or can there be a cost to being infinitely helpful and agreeable?  Can the capacity to create group consensus  dilute clarity?

Overusing a strength or ignoring a blind spot can derail optimal performace.
Overusing a strength or ignoring a blind spot can derail optimal performance.

The October 2013 issue of Psychology Today headline feature is an article titled When Virtue Becomes Vice.  Although it isn’t out on newsstands yet, I got my copy yesterday and was glad to see this topic discussed because in some ways, it provides a counterbalance to focusing only on an individual’s strengths.  Identifying strengths is essential to be sure, and is perhaps the cornerstone to personal effectiveness.  However, some times we can ignore the opposite of our strengths, commonly known as a blind spot, or, we can rely so heavily on a strength that it is overdone. It can become a liability.

Do you think of yourself as open to possibilities? Adaptable?  I certainly do.  For instance, I like to live my life as if it were an endless solution set  of possibilities.  I am adaptable and I can see the good in just about any outcome.  This capacity to flex served me well when I was an on-call speech pathologist.  I could arrive at any worksite and be very effective with very little direction. Likewise when I started coaching, I was energized by any possible direction that my new coaching business would take me.  Why did I have to decide anything?  Make a clear choice?

Having one clear answer feels confining and  if I have choose one thing, I close off infinitely more possibilities. So I push back against anything that will lock me in.   However, therein lies the dark side to being open to everything.   If you stay open to everything then fewer things ever take root.  Projects and ideas can go unfinished, having been displaced by the new.  You may always be looking to the next horizon.

Developing awareness around the downside of a virtue is certainly the first step toward managing it well.  However, what if it has been weaved into your very identity?  It may take more than an intellectual understanding to know when your virtue is being overdone. What if you are always known as the flexible one,  or the perfect one?  Can you give yourself permission to not be that person when the situation calls for something else?

Strengths based coaching has many advantages for it is true that many of us don’t know what we do well. Most of us would rather have identified competencies to rely on rather than not.  But it is often the overuse of strengths and lack of awareness around their corresponding blind spots that can derail an individual from optimal effectiveness.

As in most things, pendulums swing. Defining what is the best approach to optimizing personal effectiveness is no exception. There has much attention given to showcasing strengths in recent times. However,  I like the idea that knowing how much of a good thing is too much is now being discussed.  It is an essential conversation if we are to become all that we can be.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. becoming a parent was such a call to this for me! i used to be an organized, perfectionist, achiever. after spending all my school years and twenties that way, it had really become rooted in my identity. parenting calls me to be flexible, take time, accept more mess, and be more patient with myself. it was super hard at first, but five years in i feel like i’m more rounded, grounded and balanced for having had to exercise those opposite traits.

  2. So very true, Ann. Every strength, overused, becomes a weakness. In Jungian psychology terms, strengths-based coaching helps you make the most of who you are. Needs-based coaching keeps you from getting stuck in who you are…

  3. Excellent personal insight, Kathryn. Parenting will definitely demand that we make changes to how we used to do things. In my case, being a more free-flowing person brought the challenge of having to create structure and certain important routines. Without those changes, I would have had chaos!

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