STRENGTHS, STRENGTHS OVERUSED,
AND LOPSIDED LEADERSHIP
Robert B. Kaiser and Darren V. Overﬁeld
Kaplan DeVries Inc.
Riding the growth of positive psychology, strengths-based development has become a
popular approach to helping managers become better leaders. This school of thought
advises managers to maximize their natural talents rather than try to correct weaknesses.
This article takes issue with this advice and considers how it can, ironically, lead
managers to turn their strengths into weaknesses through overuse as well as cause them
to neglect shortcomings that can degrade the performance of employees, teams, and
organizations. Hypotheses are developed about the relationship between speciﬁc per-
sonal strengths and leadership behaviors as well as the joint tendencies to overdo
behaviors related to one’s strengths while underdoing opposing but complementary
behaviors. Strong support was found for the tendency of managers to do too much of
the behaviors related to their strengths and more modest support was found for the tendency
of managers to do too little of opposing but complementary behaviors. The implications of
these ﬁndings are discussed in terms of future research needs and how to apply the strengths
approach in a way that minimizes downside risk in developmental applications.
Keywords: strengths, strengths overused, strengths become weaknesses, leadership
In the last decade positive psychology has grown from an inspired idea on the bank of mainstream
psychology to a sea change in how the ﬁeld thinks about human functioning. In many ways this
represents an advance. A fair criticism of the ﬁrst 100 years of the science of psychology is that the
emphasis has been on addressing what makes life unbearable—mental illness, anxiety, neurosis,
stress, and so on. But the good life is about more than just the absence of pathology; the things that
make life worth living also concern growth and fulﬁllment (Seligman & Cziskzentmihalyi, 2000; see
also Jahoda, 1958).
There is much to like about a positive psychology. For example, prominent proponents, Martin
Seligman and his colleagues, have presented compelling experimental evidence showing that simple
adjustments in your daily life can increase your quality of life in terms of better moods and improved
general well being (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005). Barbara Frederickson (2001) has
Robert B. Kaiser and Darren V. Overﬁeld, Kaplan DeVries Inc.
We thank two anonymous reviewers for helpful feedback on this paper.
Rob B. Kaiser is a Partner and Darren V. Overﬁeld is a Senior Consultant with the executive development
and research ﬁrm Kaplan DeVries Inc. An earlier version of this research was presented at the 25th annual
conference of the Society for Industrial-Organizational Psychology in Atlanta, GA. Robert B. Kaiser has a
commercial interest in the Leadership Versatility Index described in this article.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Robert B. Kaiser or Darren V. Overﬁeld,
Kaplan DeVries Inc., 1903-G Ashwood Ct., Greensboro, NC 27455. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or
Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research © 2011 American Psychological Association
2011, Vol. 63, No. 2, 89 –109 1065-9293/11/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0024470
some interesting ideas based on evolutionary theory that explain the good that feeling good can do.
She begins by acknowledging the obvious survival advantage of negative emotions as adaptive
responses to environmental threats and then notes that the survival advantages of positive emotions
are not so obvious. Her “broaden-and-build” theory explains how positive emotions widen our
perspective and open us up to new knowledge, relationships, and experiences that build intellectual
and social capital. As these assets accumulate and we develop a wider array of skills and allies, we
become better able to deal with the inevitable exigencies of life as well as to capitalize on promising
Positive psychology is increasingly being applied in the workplace. In particular, there is an
application known as “strengths-based development.” It was popularized around the turn of the
century (Buckingham & Clifton, 2001; see also Clifton & Nelson, 1992) and took off like a shot.
This school of thought emphasizes building on strengths to make employees happier, more engaged,
and more productive. The strengths approach has expanded and is also used to help managers
become better leaders (Morris & Garrett, 2010; Rath & Conchie, 2009).
This article explores the possibility that encouraging managers to maximize their strengths may
have unexpected and undesirable consequences. In particular, we consider both conceptually and
empirically how encouraging managers to play to their strengths may, ironically, lead them to turn
those strengths into weaknesses through overuse. We close by recommending future research
directions and offering cautionary guidance for how to apply the strengths approach in leadership
development in a way that minimizes this downside risk.
The Strengths Argument
A recurring criticism in the strengths movement is that conventional methods of performance
management and training are wrong (Buckingham, 2005; Buckingham & Clifton, 2001; Hayes,
2009; Rath, 2007). Proponents claim that traditional approaches to performance appraisal, feedback,
and development are based on a deﬁciency model: gaps between current and desired levels of
performance are identiﬁed, and development efforts focus on ﬁxing these problems (Buckingham &
Clifton, 2001; Rath, 2007). Strengths advocates claim that a focus on ﬁxing weaknesses is inherently
frustrating, demoralizing, and demeaning because it implicitly asks people to be something they are
not. They further argue that the deﬁciency model is inefﬁcient and ineffective because ﬁxing
weaknesses might get a manager to improve from “poor” to “average” but will never make that
manager “outstanding” because the only way to achieve greatness is to maximize one’s innate gifts.
This criticism of standard practice concludes with the utility argument that it is a misallocation of
time, energy, and money to try to ﬁx weaknesses. As the leading spokespersons for the movement
put it (Buckingham & Clifton, 2001, p. 57), “People don’t change that much. Don’t waste time
trying to put in what was left out. Try to draw out what was left in.”
The alternative solution recommended by the strengths argument is based on the assumption
that helping people become the best they can be involves identifying their natural inclinations and
nurturing those talents. First, it is argued that most people do not know their strengths. In support
of this, Peter Drucker, the late philosopher emeritus of modern management, is quoted as saying,
“Most Americans do not know what their strengths are. When you ask them, they look at you with
a blank stare” (from the inside dust-jacket of Now, Discover Your Strengths; Buckingham& Clifton,
2001; see also Rath, 2007, p. 15).
The strengths argument continues by maintaining that if people knew what their strengths were,
they could make better use of them. Similarly, employers are encouraged to put people in roles that
play to their strengths and, if necessary, redesign jobs so as to exploit an incumbent’s inherent talent.
Finally, the strengths movement offers the promise that in maximizing one’s strengths, one can
realize one’s potential and achieve self-fulﬁllment and optimal performance in work, community,
and family roles (Buckingham, 2008). Therefore, some strengths-based interventions stimulate
self-awareness to discover one’s strengths and then encourage the person to identify how to use
those strengths more often and in new situations (Seligman et al., 2005).
90 KAISER AND OVERFIELD
Flies in the Ointment
What could possibly be wrong with an application that emphasizes respect for the individual and
self-actualization? There seem to be at least two problems with the zealous adoption and imple-
mentation of the strengths ideology (Biswas-Diener, Kashdan, & Minhas, in press; Kaiser, 2009;
Schwartz & Sharpe, 2006). First, its beneﬁts to the individual are short-term; overlooked are the
long-term opportunity costs of a narrow focus on what comes naturally and a concomitant lack of
attention to branching out and developing new capabilities (Kaiser & White, 2008; White, 2009).
For instance, the strengths approach is philosophically incongruent with Frederickson’s (2001)
broaden-and-build theory and the empirical support she has found for the lasting beneﬁts of
cultivating a diverse portfolio of personal capabilities and social resources. Similarly, the advice to
stick to what comes naturally and maximize those areas of talent runs counter to research showing
that the most effective executives are those whose careers demonstrate a consistent theme of taking
on a variety of new assignments, learning critical lessons, and developing a wide repertoire of skills,
abilities, and perspectives (Lombardo & Eichinger, 2006; McCall, 1998; McCall, Lombardo, &
The second problem with many popular applications of the strengths approach is that these
practices often ignore decades of research on leadership development and derailment. One particular
theme that is often overlooked, and is a focal point in the present research, concerns the overuse of
strengths and the corollary problem of lopsided leadership.
The phrase “a strength can become a weakness” is ﬁrmly embedded in the modern management
vocabulary. It is used when a manager’s performance is compromised by the inappropriate use of
an otherwise desirable attribute (McCall, 1998, 2009). For instance, a well-organized and detail-
oriented manager might be good with project management, but at the extreme may be experienced
as a maddeningly meddlesome micromanager. A caring and supportive manager who is good with
people might also be seen as a pushover who is too close to people to be objective about
performance. Other common phrases such as “too much of a good thing” or “driven to a fault”
indicate recognition of taking a strength to counterproductive extremes.
McCall and Lombardo (1983, p. 11) added “strengths become weaknesses” to the managerial
lexicon with their seminal studies of what gets successful executives ﬁred. In their analysis of
so-called “derailed” leaders, they observed that qualities which were once regarded as strengths
came to be seen as glaring problems. This pattern was most notable when managers were promoted
to the executive ranks. As the researchers concluded, “the same attributes that got these men to the
top also did them in” (McCall & Lombardo, 1983, p. 8).
Too much of a good thing. Most statistical research relies on analytic techniques including
correlation and regression that assume linear relationships between predictors, such as personal
strengths and other personality traits, and outcomes, such as job performance. These models assume
that increasing levels of a trait are associated with increasing levels of performance. However,
theorists are starting to question this practice (Benson & Campbell, 2007; Le, Oh, Robbins, Ilies,
Holland, & Westrick, 2010). The emerging view is that some individual differences may show
curvilinear relations where increasing levels of the trait are related to increasing levels of perfor-
mance but only up to a point; after that point performance no longer increases and may even drop
A recent study showed in a sample of 602 employees that increases in Conscientiousness were
associated with increases in supervisor ratings of task performance but only up to about one standard
deviation above the mean on Conscientiousness (Le et al., 2010). Beyond that, higher Conscien-
tiousness scores were associated with decreases in ratings of task performance. The reason is that
extremely conscientious employees may get bogged down in details, hung up on unnecessarily high
or perfectionistic standards, or be indecisive out of fear of making mistakes. A similar pattern was
found for Emotional Stability and both task performance and organizational citizenship behavior;
employees at the highest levels of Stability were rated lower than employees in the average range
on these two performance dimensions. Extremely stable people can be resistant to feedback, lack a
sense of urgency, and seem arrogant.
Another recent study showed curvilinear relations between assertiveness and leadership effec-
tiveness (Ames & Flynn, 2007). Compared with leaders who scored low, those who scored high on
assertiveness had teams that were more productive but the team members reported less favorable
work attitudes. Moreover, at the highest range of assertiveness, productivity also started to decline
relative to more moderate levels of assertiveness. Drive and assertiveness are commonly regarded
as desirable strengths in leaders (Silzer & Davies, 2010), but this research shows clearly that
excessively assertive leaders can come on too strong, which demoralizes employees and causes
Curiously, early leadership research identiﬁed these kinds of curvilinear effects, but the idea did
not catch on. For example, after studying three different samples of managers, Ghiselli (1963, p.
898) concluded nearly 50 years ago that “. . . the relationship between intelligence and managerial
success is curvilinear with those individuals earning both low and very high scores being less likely
to achieve success in managerial positions.” This conclusion was based on the observation that the
most effective leaders had slightly higher IQ scores than the typical worker, whereas workers were
less satisﬁed and workgroups were less effective when the leader had a substantially higher IQ.
Ancient wisdom. The notion of “too much of a good thing” is, of course, not new or original
with McCall and Lombardo’s research on derailment or Ghiselli’s research on intelligence and
leadership. Aristotle (trans. 1982) wrote more than two millennia ago in his Ethics that what is good,
virtuous, and effective in thought and action is difﬁcult to achieve. He noted that ineffectiveness is
characterized either by deﬁciency—too little of the prized quality— or by excess—too much of it.
Just as Goldilocks discovered that porridge can be either too cold or too hot, the idea that deﬁciency
and excess constitute two distinct classes of faulty performance strikes most people as common
sense. Nevertheless, although a few exceptions exist (e.g., Linley, 2008; Schwartz & Sharpe, 2006),
the idea has been largely ignored in the promotion of strengths-based development. In some cases
where the idea that a strength could be taken too far has been acknowledged, proponents of the
strengths approach have used rhetoric and a tacit “more is better” assumption to dismiss the concern
(e.g., Brim, 2007).
There are two costs to overusing a strength, whether it be by applying too much of that behavior in
proportion to situational demands or applying the behavior in situations where it is not appropriate
(Kaiser & Kaplan, 2009; Kaplan & Kaiser, 2009). First are the direct effects of doing something too
much. Excessive participative management can be inefﬁcient, as everyone gets airtime and decisions
must accommodate everyone’s input. Excessive assertiveness can run roughshod over people, and
in situations calling for ﬁnesse an assertive response can be blunt and risk alienating one’s audience.
Excessive attention to detail can get bogged down in the weeds, and a grandiose vision can cause
a leader to stretch an organization’s resources too thin.
The second and more subtle cost of overdoing a strength concerns what gets sacriﬁced when a
leader puts so much attention in one area that it causes him or her to neglect a complementary but
opposing area (Kaiser & Kaplan, 2009; Kaplan & Kaiser, 2006, 2009). For instance, it is not just
that the excessively participative manager is so concerned about consensus and inclusion that
meetings run long and agendas lack focus, but also that timely decision-making and goal clarity
get sacriﬁced. Overly assertive managers do not just treat people rough, they also frequently do not
delegate, empower, or listen very well. Detail junkies do not just get bogged down in the weeds—to
switch metaphors, they also cannot see the forest for the trees. And grandiose visionaries often
neglect the realistic assessment of what it takes to execute and the tactical blocking and tackling
required to implement their grand plans.
We call this pattern of a manager overdoing a strength at the expense of an opposing but
complementary skill, competency, or perspective “lopsided leadership” because the manager’s style
leans ﬁguratively to one side, and away from the other side (Kaiser & Kaplan, 2009; Kaplan &
Kaiser, 2006, 2009). Based on three decades of consulting to executives on their development,
92 KAISER AND OVERFIELD
Robert Kaplan has claimed that lopsided leadership is their most common performance problem
(personal communication, April 6, 2009).
Empirical research indicates that managers who overdo one approach tend to neglect the
complementary but opposing approach (e.g., Kaiser & Kaplan, 2009; Kaiser & Overﬁeld, 2010).
Moreover, the double-whammy of too much of this and too little of that undermines performance
signiﬁcantly. Compared with leaders who manage to strike a relative balance between such
complementary approaches as a directive versus participative style or a strategic versus tactical
focus, lopsided leaders have employees who are less engaged and committed, have teams that are
less cohesive and productive, use a limited repertoire of management methods and techniques, and
are viewed as far less effective overall (for a review see Kaiser, Overﬁeld, & Kaplan, 2010).
However, the strengths argument seems to offer advice that steers managers straight into the trap
of lopsided leadership. By encouraging managers to stop trying to ﬁx weaknesses and instead focus
on their strengths, those who heed this advice run the risk of performing too little of some important
roles and functions while putting too much emphasis on other ones, thereby compromising the
performance of their employees, teams, and organizations.
The present study concerns the links between strengths, strengths overused, and lopsided leadership.
We begin with Drucker’s observation that most managers do not know their strengths (Kaplan,
1999). Next, we assume that managers who do too much of a particular leadership behavior do not
usually recognize this tendency (Kaplan & Kaiser, 2006). Further, we believe that managers are
most likely to overdo leadership behaviors that are associated with their “strengths”—that is, their
areas of natural talent and interest (Buckingham & Clifton, 200). Finally, we believe that managers
are also likely to neglect or avoid leadership behaviors that are opposing but complementary to those
associated with their areas of natural talent.
We approach the question of why managers may overdo their strengths from the perspective of
control theory and the underlying cybernetic concept of self-regulation (Carver & Sheier, 1998;
Vancouver, 2008). Control theory offers a robust motivational framework for understanding
behavior and is a useful theory in the applied work of leadership development and executive
coaching (Gregory, Beck, & Carr, 2011; Sosik, Potosky, & Jung, 2002; Tsui & Ashford, 1994).
Control theory maintains that people try to self-regulate a variable, such as their leadership behavior,
by comparing how well that variable matches a standard or target level. For instance, a manager may
desire to exercise effective leadership, and will compare her demonstrated level of leadership
behavior to an ideal or standard which generates feedback about the appropriateness and effective-
ness of that behavior. In turn, this feedback is thought to guide the manager to make behavioral
adjustments to reduce discrepancies from the standard.
In most cases, clear and unambiguous feedback about the appropriateness of leadership behavior
is rarely provided from the work environment (Ashford & Tsui, 1991; Kaplan, 1984). Managers are
typically left to their own devices in terms of deﬁning what constitutes the ideal amount of a
particular leadership behavior and gauging how their behavior compares to that standard. Moreover,
faulty gauges seem common: managers are often a poor judge of how much of a given leadership
behavior is appropriate for a given situation (Kaplan & Kaiser, 2006). Further, there is substantial
evidence that managers have biased and unreliable judgments about their own leadership behavior
(Heidemeier & Moser, 2009). Managers who tend to overdo a particular leadership behavior are
often worried about demonstrating enough of that behavior and are sensitive to underdoing it
(Kaplan, 1999; Kaplan & Kaiser, 2006). These anxious emotions can cloud judgment and bias
perceptions of how the demonstrated quality and degree of that behavior matches an ideal standard
(Kaiser & Kaplan, 2006). For instance, managers who worry about being smart enough will often
strain to prove themselves; managers who worry about being liked will often be excessively
accommodating to other people; managers who worry about status and being taken seriously will
often come on too strong and be overly controlling.
Based on this line of thinking, we offer the following predictions. Consistent with past research
(e.g., Kaiser & Kaplan, 2009; Lombardo & Eichinger, 2006), we expect that coworkers will perceive
that managers do too much of certain leadership behaviors. However, our ﬁrst hypothesis concerns
self-perception. Speciﬁcally, we expect that the managers who are seen as doing too much of a given
behavior have a faulty gauge and will perceive that they actually do too little of that behavior, which
according to control theory would drive them to do the excessive amount of the behavior that
Hypothesis 1: Managers who are rated by coworkers as doing “too much” of a particular
leadership behavior will rate themselves as doing “too little” of that behavior.
We expect that managers will be most likely to overdo leadership behaviors that are related to
their areas of natural talent and inclination—that is, their strengths. Because they have innate
capability, intrinsic motivation, and derive satisfaction from using their strengths (Buckingham &
Clifton, 2001), they may be biased to use these behaviors when they are not necessary or apply them
to a greater extent than required by the presenting situation.
Hypothesis 2: Managers will be rated by coworkers as doing “too much” of behaviors related
to their personal strengths.
Finally, people have a tendency to polarize—to view choices as either/or rather than both/and
(Rokeach, 1960). Moreover, according to transpersonal psychology (Goldstein, 1983), people tend
to construct their identities by deﬁning possible attributes as “me” or “not me” (see also, Kelly,
1955, on personal constructs deﬁned as either/or dichotomies). We believe that leaders are likely to
neglect functional behaviors that are opposite and complementary to the behaviors related to their
strengths (Kaiser & Kaplan, 2009; Kaiser, Lindberg, & Craig, 2007; Kaiser & Overﬁeld, 2010;
Kaplan & Kaiser, 2006). That is, if leaders deﬁne themselves with a particular style (e.g., directive),
they may also deﬁne themselves as “not” an opposing style (e.g., participative). Therefore, if areas
of personal strength and natural talent may lead managers to do too much of certain behaviors, then
we expect that they may also lead managers away from opposing behaviors. Prior research (e.g.,
Kaiser & Overﬁeld, 2010) has reported a relationship between the tendency to do too much of one
leadership behavior (e.g., a directive style) and the tendency to do too little of an opposing but
complementary leadership behavior (e.g., a participative style). Our theorizing extends these
ﬁndings to suggest that overdoing one behavior and underdoing another are both related to the same
underlying cause, namely an area of talent or naturally occurring area of interest and inclination.
Hypothesis 3: Managers will be rated by coworkers as doing “too little” of leadership
behaviors that are opposing but complementary to the behaviors related to their strengths.
The data consisted of leader behavior ratings on the Leadership Versatility Index multirater
assessment instrument (Kaiser & Kaplan, 2007) and personal strengths as identiﬁed with the Gallup
StrengthsFinder survey (Buckingham & Clifton, 2001) for 110 managers. All data were gathered for
the sole and stated purpose of development as part of a leadership training program.
The 110 participants were mostly male (n ⫽ 101) and ranged in age from 28 to 62 years old
(M ⫽ 44.4, SD ⫽ 7.5). They reported having been in their current jobs for between two months
and 31 years (median ⫽ 5 years, SD ⫽ 7.2). The sample represented a range of organizational levels,
with most in middle-management—12 reported working at the Executive level, 61 at the Middle
Management level, 31 as a Department Head, and six at the Supervisory level. The participants were
employed by three for-proﬁt organizations: a manufacturing company (n ⫽ 45), a ﬁnancial services
ﬁrm (n ⫽ 33), and a technology company (n ⫽ 32).
94 KAISER AND OVERFIELD
Leader behavior. Leader behavior was measured using Leadership Versatility Index (LVI)
version 2.1 (Kaiser & Kaplan, 2007). The LVI is a multirater measure that contains four primary
scales, and on version 2.1 each scale was composed of 15 items to measure Forceful, Enabling,
Strategic, and Operational behaviors. Forceful leadership is deﬁned as assuming authority and using
personal and position power to push for performance; it includes three components of taking charge,
decisiveness, and accountability. Enabling leadership is deﬁned as creating conditions for other
people to contribute; it includes three components of empowerment, listening, and supporting
people. Strategic leadership is deﬁned as positioning the organization or unit or team to be
competitive in the future; it includes three components of setting direction, expanding capacity, and
supporting innovation. Operational leadership is deﬁned as focusing the organization on the
day-to-day details needed to implement near-term plans; it includes three components of execution,
conserving resources, and using process discipline to manage performance in an orderly manner.
Prior research supports the structure, reliability, and validity of the LVI as a measure of four
dimensions of leadership behavior that show the expected patterns of convergent and discriminant
correlations with other measures of leader behavior and effectiveness criteria (Kaiser, Overﬁeld, &
Kaplan, 2010; Staal, 2008; Vassar, 2008).
Critical to the purpose of our study, the LVI behavior items are rated with a unique, “too little/too
much” response format (Kaiser & Kaplan, 2005). This response scale ranges from ⫺4to⫹ 4, where
⫺4to⫺1 represents degrees of “too little” and ⫹ 1to⫹ 4 represents degrees of “too much.”
Ratings of 0, in the middle of the scale, represent “the right amount” (see Figure 1). This rating
format allows coworkers to distinguish when managers do an appropriate amount of a particular
behavior from when they overdo it and research indicates that raters are able to make these
distinctions. Ratings of the same manager made with this scale by multiple coworkers show a high
degree of interrater agreement and interrater reliability (Kaplan & Kaiser, 2006). Further, ratings
near “0, the right amount” are associated with the most desirable scores on a range of criteria,
including overall leader effectiveness, employee attitudes (e.g., engagement, morale, cohesion), and
work group productivity (Kaiser & Kaplan, 2009; Kaiser, Overﬁeld, & Kaplan, 2010). In other
words, the “too little/too much” rating scale is a reliable and valid method for measuring strengths
Ratings were provided from all participants and a total of 1,396 coworkers. On average (median
values), target managers were rated by 13 coworkers—two superiors, ﬁve peers, and six subordi-
nates. We calculated leadership scale scores for self-ratings by computing the average rating across
the 15 items for each of the four scales. To calculate scores for coworker ratings we used a procedure
recommended by Oh and Berry (2009). These researchers noted that behavioral criteria are often
measured using only supervisor ratings and argued that this provides a limited view of behavior.
They further argued that peers and subordinates are likely to provide incremental variance in
performance measurement because they have opportunities to observe behaviors that supervisors
often do not have. Oh and Berry (2009) then demonstrated that ratings based on the “full circle” of
coworkers were more reliable and valid than ratings based solely on any one rating group. Therefore,
we computed LVI scores for coworkers by ﬁrst calculating the average rating across all raters within
the superior, peer, and subordinate groups. Next, we examined the correlations for the four
As one reviewer of this paper put it, “there are extremely difﬁcult measurement issues in determining
when there is too much or too little of a skill.” The approach we have taken by using coworker ratings on the
“too little/too much” scale assumes that coworkers are in a good position to evaluate the frequency or intensity
with which a manager uses a particular behavior. That is, our method assumes that a manager does too much of
a given behavior if multiple coworkers rate that manager as doing “too much” of a particular behavior. This
assumption seems to be supported by the research we cite indicating a good deal of interrater agreement and
reliability for ratings made on this scale as well as the validity data indicating that scores of “too little” and “too
much” are associated with lower scores on such outcome variables as employee attitudes, work group
performance, and overall effectiveness.
leadership behavior scales based on the average rating for superiors, peers, and subordinates to
ensure an adequate degree of convergence to justify aggregation across rater groups (see Table 1).
The average correlation for the same behavior scale rated by different rater groups (i.e., the bold
convergence coefﬁcients in Table 1) was r ⫽ .42 for superiors-peers, r ⫽ .40 for superiors-
subordinates, and r ⫽ .49 for peers-subordinates. These values are higher than meta-analytic
estimates of between source correlations for ratings of managerial performance (Conway &
Huffcutt, 1997). Therefore, we felt justiﬁed in calculating the average rating across the three
coworker rating groups for each target manager. Thus, the coworkers’ leader behavior ratings
reﬂected an equally weighted view from the superior, peer, and subordinate perspective. Means,
standard deviations, internal consistency reliabilities, and intercorrelations for the four LVI scale
scores based on self- and aggregated coworker ratings are presented in Table 2.
Strengths. The Gallup StrengthsFinder (Buckingham & Clifton, 2001) is an internet-based
survey of positive attributes that is designed to measure 34 different talent themes that have been
identiﬁed in Gallup research conducted from the perspective of positive psychology (Hayes, 2001).
Participants were given a copy of the book, Now, Discover Your Strengths (Buckingham & Clifton,
2001) as part of participation in the leadership development program, and each copy of the book
included an access code for taking the survey at http://strengths.gallup.com/.
The StrengthsFinder is made up of 180 items that consist of a pair of statements, and the
respondent chooses which statement best describes him or her (e.g., “I read instructions carefully”
vs. “I like to jump right into things”). The items tap a range of content including motivation,
preferences, habits, skills, and styles and are grouped into the 34 talent themes based on traditional
psychometric criteria (Hayes, 2001). According to the technical report, the average internal con-
sistency reliability for the StrengthFinder scales is .79, and they each demonstrate test-retest
reliabilities over a six-month interval ranging between .60 and .80 (Hayes, 2001). Scale scores are
computed based on a proprietary algorithm, and survey takers are provided a StrengthsFinder
Proﬁle that lists the ﬁve scales on which they scored the highest, referred to as their Top Five
Participants provided their StrengthsFinder Proﬁle to be used in research. Scale scores were not
available. (The test publisher regards those data as proprietary and enforces strict limitations on
external research.) Therefore, for our analyses, we scored each StrengthsFinder theme as either “In
the Top Five” or “Not in the Top Five” for each person. This represents an extreme restriction
compared to the actual range of continuous scale scores, which artiﬁcially reduces variance and
therefore limits statistical power in tests of the relationships between the StrengthsFinder themes
and the leadership behaviors (Cohen, 1983; MacCallum, Zhang, Preacher, & Rucker, 2002). Further
complicating matters is the fact that a lot of information about the relative standing of the
participants on each of the 34 strengths themes has also been lost (Hayes, 2001). This is because a
particular theme could be in two participants’ “Top Five” lists, but one of those participants could
have scored very high on that scale while the other one may have scored signiﬁcantly lower. Despite
the fact that the ﬁrst person scored higher on the strength scale, the two participants in our sample
would have an equal score in our database (i.e., that strength theme would be scored “In the Top
Five” for both participants). This amounts to a further loss of meaningful variance and the potential
Figure 1. The “too little/too much” rating scale. Note: U.S. Patent No. 7,121,830. Reproduced from
Leadership Versatility Index version 3.0: Facilitator’s Guide, by R. B. Kaiser, D. V. Overﬁeld, and R. E.
Kaplan, 2010, Greensboro, NC: Kaplan DeVries Inc. Copyright 2010 by Kaplan DeVries Inc. Reprinted
with permission from the publisher.
96 KAISER AND OVERFIELD
Correlations Among Average Superior-, Peer-, and Subordinate Ratings on LVI Leader Behavior Scales
Superiors Peers Subordinates
Forceful Enabling Strategic Operational Forceful Enabling Strategic Operational Forceful Enabling Strategic
Strategic .35 ⫺.05
Operational .36 ⫺.14 ⫺.05
Forceful .43 ⫺.51 .18 .12
Enabling ⫺.47 .55 ⫺.12 ⫺.15 ⫺.79
Strategic .02 ⫺.06 .26 ⫺.19 .28 .13
Operational .15 ⫺.24 ⫺.05 .45 .56 ⫺.29 .21
Forceful .41 ⫺.36 .22 .16 .58 ⫺.47 .22 .29
Enabling ⫺.22 .32 ⫺.05 ⫺.08 ⫺.52 .61 ⫺.12 ⫺.32 ⫺.64
Strategic .12 ⫺.01 .38 ⫺.20 .02 .12 .40 ⫺.15 .26 .25
Operational .26 ⫺.21 ⫺.06 .49 .20 ⫺.22 ⫺.17 .38 .30 ⫺.02 ⫺.10
Note. Correlations in bold represent the relationship for the same dimension rated by two different sources. Correlations ⬎ |.29| are signiﬁcant p ⬍ .001, ⬎ |.24| are signiﬁcant p ⬍
.01, and ⬎ |.20| are signiﬁcant p ⬍ .05.
introduction of error variance in the distributions for the 34 strength themes in our database.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to determine the degree to which this artifact affected our results. The
net effect of these two artifacts is that the relationships we report below underestimate the
relationships among the constructs of interest and should be regarded as lower-bound estimates
We took a theory-driven approach to predicting which StrengthsFinder themes would be associated
with which LVI behaviors. First, the two authors reviewed the descriptions provided for each of
the 34 themes in Now, Discover Your Strengths (Buckingham & Clifton, 2001). Next, we indepen-
dently identiﬁed the three strengths themes that had the greatest conceptual similarity to the
Forceful, Enabling, Strategic, and Operational leadership behaviors. Of the 12 possible strength
themes, we identiﬁed 11 in common. We discussed our reasoning for why we recommended the
strength theme that we did for the one discrepancy, and then came to a mutual decision about which
one to select for the study.
This process resulted in the following hypothesized associations.
The strength themes associ-
ated with Forceful leadership were Achiever (stamina and hard work; taking satisfaction from being
busy and productive), Activator (can make things happen by turning thoughts into action; often
urgent about results), and Command (having strong presence; able to take control of a situation and
make decisions). The strengths themes associated with Enabling leadership were Developer (rec-
ognize, cultivate, and reward the potential in others), Harmony (getting along by seeking consensus,
emphasizing similarity, and minimizing conﬂict) and Includer (accepting of others; aware of those
who feel left out and makes them feel welcomed). The strength themes associated with Strategic
leadership were Futuristic (visionary; inspired by the future and what could be), Intellection
(intellectual; introspective and appreciates the world of ideas), and Strategic (identifying relevant
patterns and issues, good at visualizing alternatives). Finally, the strength themes associated with
Operational leadership were Consistency (setting up clear rules and adhering to them), Discipline
(creating order, routine, and structure and regularly using it), and Focus (staying on task, following
The description of each strength theme is based on the deﬁnitions provided by Buckingham and Clifton
Descriptive Statistics, Reliabilities, and Correlations for LVI Leader Behavior Scales
Coworker ratings Self-ratings
Forceful Enabling Strategic Operational Forceful Enabling Strategic Operational
Forceful ⫺.21 .47 (.96)
Enabling ⫺.39 .40 ⫺.80 (.96)
Strategic ⫺.43 .25 .25 .11 (.89)
Operational ⫺.19 .23 .43 ⫺.29 ⫺.23 (.83)
Forceful ⫺.10 .79 .66 ⫺.52 .05 .23 (.90)
Enabling ⫺.28 .68 ⫺.60 .56 .07 ⫺.31 ⫺.59 (.88)
Strategic ⫺.44 .68 .17 ⫺.05 .48 ⫺.24 .24 .11 (.86)
Operational ⫺.05 .60 .11 ⫺.12 ⫺.28 .46 .33 ⫺.16 ⫺.07 (.79)
Note. Values along the diagonal in parentheses are estimates of internal consistency reliability (coefﬁcient ␣).
Correlations ⬎ |.29| are signiﬁcant p ⬍ .001, ⬎ |.24| are signiﬁcant p ⬍ .01, and ⬎ |.20| are signiﬁcant p ⬍ .05.
98 KAISER AND OVERFIELD
through, and prioritizing goals). Descriptive statistics for these 12 StrengthsFinder scales scored
dichotomously (either “In the Top Five” or “Not in the Top Five”) are presented in Table 3.
Next we sought to determine whether the strength themes we thought were conceptually related
to each of the four leadership behaviors were statistically related to those behaviors. To answer this
question, we compared the average coworkers rating for the appropriate leadership behavior scale
for managers who had the strength theme in question “Not in the Top Five” versus “In the Top
Five.” We used coworker ratings, and not self-ratings, for these analyses because coworker ratings
are more reliable and valid than self-ratings (Heidemeier & Moser, 2009). Support for our
conceptual alignment would be evident if the managers who had the strength “In the Top Five”
received higher ratings on the speciﬁed leader behavior scale compared to managers for whom that
strength was “Not in the Top Five.”
We tested these relationships by conducting t tests for the signiﬁcance of differences in mean
leadership behavior ratings for those who had versus did not have each of the 12 strength themes
in their Top Five. The results of these analyses are presented in Table 4. The results indicate
signiﬁcant differences for 10 of the 12 strength-behavior relationships. In one of the two cases where
the difference in mean leadership behavior ratings was not signiﬁcant, the difference was in the
expected direction (i.e., those with Includer in the Top Five did receive higher mean ratings on
Enabling leadership). However, those with Intellection in the Top Five actually received lower
ratings, on average, for Strategic leadership compared with those with Intellection Not in the Top
Five. Taken together, these results provide support for 11 of the 12 conceptual associations we made
between strengths themes and leadership behaviors. We included the twelfth pairing, Intellection-
Strategic leadership, in subsequent analyses for the sake of completion, recognizing the fact that
these two variables appear to be unrelated.
Hypothesis 1 was based on control theory and predicted that managers who are rated by coworkers
as doing too much of a given leader behavior would actually rate themselves as doing too little of
that behavior. We tested this hypothesis by computing
statistics to determine whether managers
who were rated by coworkers as “too much” were more likely to rate themselves as “too little.” To
make these classiﬁcations, we recoded the LVI scale scores that were within ⫾ 3 Standard Errors
of Measurement of “0, the right amount” as “The right amount” because scores within this range are
Proportion of Sample With StrengthsFinder Themes “In Top Five” and
“Not in Top Five”
StrengthsFinder theme Associated leader behavior
Not in top ﬁve In top ﬁve
n % n %
Achiever Forceful 67 (60.9%) 43 (39.1%)
Activator Forceful 98 (89.1%) 12 (10.9%)
Command Forceful 101 (91.8%) 9 (8.2%)
Developer Enabling 106 (96.4%) 4 (3.6%)
Harmony Enabling 94 (85.5%) 16 (14.5%)
Includer Enabling 106 (96.4%) 4 (3.6%)
Futuristic Strategic 107 (97.3%) 3 (2.7%)
Intellection Strategic 108 (98.2%) 2 (1.8%)
Strategic Strategic 88 (80.0%) 22 (20.0%)
Consistency Operational 100 (90.9%) 10 (9.1%)
Discipline Operational 101 (91.8%) 9 (8.2%)
Focus Operational 92 (83.6%) 18 (16.4%)
statistically indistinguishable from “0” at p ⬍ .001 (Ghiselli, Campbell, & Zedeck, 1981). We coded
scores exceeding this range as “Too much” and those below this range as “Too little.” The
contingency tables and
statistics are reported in Table 5.
The results did not support Hypothesis 1. In fact, managers who were rated by coworkers as
doing too much on Forceful, Enabling, and Operational were more likely to also rate themselves as
doing too much than to rate themselves as doing too little of these behaviors. This was not true for
Strategic leadership, but only two managers were rated by coworkers as overdoing Strategic
leadership, nullifying the power of this statistical test. Taken together these results suggest that
control theory and its cybernetic logic do not explain why some managers overdo particular
Hypotheses 2 and 3 are related, and we tested them in the same series of analyses. Speciﬁcally,
Hypothesis 2 predicted that managers would be rated by coworkers as doing “too much” of the
leader behaviors associated with their Top Five strengths. Hypothesis 3 predicted that managers
would be rated by coworkers as doing “too little” of the leader behaviors that are opposing but
complementary to the behaviors associated with their Top Five strengths. For instance, managers
with Command as a Top Five strength are expected to overdo Forceful leadership and underdo
We tested Hypotheses 2 and 3 for the 12 strength-behavior and 12 strength-opposite behavior
groupings with another round of
analyses. As in the prior analysis, we recoded LVI scale scores
that were within ⫾ 3 Standard Errors of Measurement of “0, the right amount” as “The right
amount,” and scale scores exceeding this range as “Too much” and those below this range as “Too
little.” Next, we calculated the
tests to determine whether the proportion of the sample rated as
doing too much of the leader behavior was higher if the associated strength was in the Top Five for
Hypothesis 2, and whether the proportion rated as doing too little on the opposing but complemen-
tary behavior was higher for Hypothesis 3. We chose to relax the alpha level for statistical
signiﬁcance from the conventional p ⬍ .05 to p ⬍ .10 to compensate for the loss of statistical power
introduced by reducing the StrengthsFinder scale scores to binary “In the Top Five”/”Not in the Top
Five” categories (Cascio & Zedeck, 1983).
Differences in LVI Leader Behavior Scale Scores for Those With StrengthsFinder
Themes “In Top Five” Versus “Not in Top Five”
Not in top 5 In top 5
Achiever ⫺0.30 (.47) ⫺0.07 (.44) 2.59
Activator ⫺0.25 (.47) ⫹0.07 (.42) 2.23
Command ⫺0.24 (.46) ⫹0.11 (.48) 2.18
Developer ⫺0.41 (.39) ⫺0.01 (.21) 2.00
Harmony ⫺0.43 (.37) ⫺0.18 (.47) 2.40
Includer ⫺0.40 (.40) ⫺0.09 (.25) 1.58
Futuristic ⫺0.44 (.25) ⫹0.03 (.16) 3.32
Intellection ⫺0.43 (.25) ⫺0.63 (.39) ⫺1.12
Strategic ⫺0.46 (.26) ⫺0.33 (.20) 2.20
Consistency ⫺0.19 (.25) ⫺0.02 (.29) 1.98
Discipline ⫺0.22 (.22) ⫹0.31 (.09) 7.16
Focus ⫺0.21 (.24) ⫹0.02 (.25) 3.84
Note. Degrees of Freedom ⫽ 108 for all t tests.
p ⬍ .05.
p ⬍ .01.
p ⬍ .001.
100 KAISER AND OVERFIELD
The contingency tables and
statistics are presented in Table 6 (for Forceful and Enabling
leadership) and Table 7 (for Strategic and Operational leadership). To aid in interpretation, each cell
in the tables includes the observed count as well as the proportion of the sample scoring in the “Too
little,” “Right amount,” and “Too much” ranges if they had the associated strengths theme “In the
Top Five” compared with “Not in the Top Five.” Figures representing hypothesized relationships are
presented in bold text.
The results indicate strong support for Hypothesis 2 for Forceful, Enabling, and Operational
behaviors; our predictions were borne out for all nine of these strength-behavior associations.
Speciﬁcally, managers were signiﬁcantly more likely to be rated as doing too much: Forceful
leadership if Achiever, Activator, or Command strengths were in their Top Five compared to if they
were not in the Top Five; Enabling leadership if Developer, Harmony, and Includer strengths were
in their Top Five; and Operational leadership if Consistency, Discipline, and Focus strengths were
in their Top Five. Concerning Strategic leadership, managers were signiﬁcantly more likely to be
rated as doing too much of this behavior if they had Futuristic in their Top Five strengths themes.
They were four times more likely to be rated as doing too much of this behavior if they had the
Strategic strength theme in their Top Five, but this result did not achieve statistical signiﬁcance
because of the low incidence of overdoing Strategic behaviors. Finally, just as we did not ﬁnd
evidence for an association between the Intellection strength theme and Strategic leadership
behavior, we also did not ﬁnd a relationship between this strength theme and overdoing this
Contingency Tables Comparing Self-Ratings to Coworker Ratings of
Too little The right amount Too much
Too little 52 (76%) 6 (9%) 10 (15%)
The right amount 4(29%) 2 (14%) 8 (57%)
Too much 6 (21%) 0 (0%) 22 (79%)
(4, n ⫽ 110) ⫽ 40.2, p ⬍ .001
Too little 559 (69%) 12 (14%) 15 (17%)
The right amount 1 (7%) 3 (21%) 10 (71%)
Too much 2 (20%) 1 (10%) 7 (70%)
(4, n ⫽ 110) ⫽ 29.7, p ⬍ .001
Too little 78 (77%) 9 (9%) 14 (14%)
The right amount 1 (14%) 3 (43%) 3 (43%)
Too much 1 (50%) 1 (50%) 0 (0%)
(4, n ⫽ 110) ⫽ 16.5, p ⬍ .01
Too little 49 (68%) 8 (11%) 15 (21%)
The right amount 8 (32%) 1 (4%) 16 (64%)
Too much 5 (38%) 2 (15%) 6 (46%)
(4, n ⫽ 110) ⫽ 17.5, p ⬍ .01
Note. Figures in bold are for relationships predicted to be the strongest based on hypotheses derived from
control theory. Percentages reﬂect the proportion of self-ratings in each category, given coworker ratings of “Too
little,” “The right amount,” or “Too much.”
behavior. The ﬁnding of statistical conﬁrmation of 10 of 11 predictions (we did not include the
twelfth, Intellection-Strategic leadership) concerning a tendency for managers to do too much of
behaviors related to their Top Five strength themes provides strong empirical support for the
contention that managers are likely to overdo behaviors related to their strengths.
There was only partial support for Hypothesis 3, the prediction that managers would do too little
of behaviors that are opposing but complementary to the behaviors associated with their strengths.
Of the 11 possible strengths-opposite behavior relationships, only three were statistically signiﬁcant.
Interestingly, these three signiﬁcant relationships were for three different behaviors. Speciﬁcally,
managers with the Forceful-related Achiever strength in their Top Five were more likely than those
with this strength not in their Top Five to be rated as doing too little of Enabling leadership; those
with the Enabling-related Harmony strength in their Top Five were more likely to be rated as doing
too little of Forceful leadership; and managers with Strategic in their Top Five strengths were more
likely to be rated as doing too little Operational leadership. Managers who had the Operational-
related strengths of Consistency, Discipline, or Focus in their Top Five were no more likely than
those who did not have these in their Top Five to be rated as doing too little Strategic leadership.
These ﬁndings offer some support, albeit more modest, for the idea that managers neglect
behaviors that are opposing but complementary to the behaviors related to their natural areas of
talent. However, a possible explanation for the more limited empirical support for this expectation
is that the effect may be less pronounced than the effect of overdoing one’s strengths and the
dichotomized and ipsatively scored StrengthsFinder scales may have limited the statistical power
Relationships Between Doing “Too Little,” “The Right Amount,” and “Too Much” of
Forceful and Enabling Leadership and Theoretically Relevant Strengths Themes
Forceful leadership Enabling leadership
Too little Right amount Too much Too little Right amount Too much
In top 5 20 (47%) 8 (19%) 15 (35%) 38 (88%) 4 (9%) 1 (2%)
Not in top 5 48 (72%) 6 (9%) 13 (19%) 48 (72%) 10 (15%) 9 (13%)
(2, n ⫽ 110) ⫽ 7.06, p ⬍ .05
(2, n ⫽ 110) ⫽ 5.14, p ⬍ .10
In top 5 4 (33%) 1 (8%) 7 (58%) 12 (100%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%)
Not in top 5 64 (65%) 13 (13%) 21 (21%) 74 (76%) 14 (14%) 10 (10%)
(2, n ⫽ 110) ⫽ 7.69, p ⬍ .05
(2, n ⫽ 110) ⫽ 3.75, ns
In top 5 1 (11%) 4 (44%) 4 (44%) 9 (100%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%)
Not in top 5 67 (66%) 10 (10%) 24 (24%) 77 (76%) 14 (14%) 10 (10%)
(2, n ⫽ 110) ⫽ 13.21, p ⬍ .001
(2, n ⫽ 110) ⫽ 2.74, ns
In top 5 4 (100%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 1 (25%) 3 (75%)
Not in top 5 64 (60%) 14 (13%) 28 (26%) 86 (81%) 13 (12%) 7 (7%)
(2, n ⫽ 110) ⫽ 2.56, ns
(2, n ⫽ 110) ⫽ 23.57, p ⬍ .001
In top 5 14 (88%) 0 (0%) 2 (13%) 4 (25%) 3 (19%) 9 (56%)
Not in top 5 54 (57%) 14 (15%) 26 (28%) 82 (87%) 11 (12%) 1 (1%)
(2, n ⫽ 110) ⫽ 5.61, p ⬍ .05
(2, n ⫽ 110) ⫽ 53.11, p ⬍ .001
In top 5 3 (75%) 0 (0%) 1 (25%) 2 (50%) 0 (0%) 2 (50%)
Not in top 5 65 (61%) 14 (13%) 27 (25%) 84 (79%) 14 (13%) 8 (8%)
(2, n ⫽ 110) ⫽ 0.65, ns
(2, n ⫽ 110) ⫽ 8.59, p ⬍ .05
Note. Figures in bold indicate predicted relationships. ns indicates “not signiﬁcant.”
102 KAISER AND OVERFIELD
needed to detect these more subtle effects (Cohen, 1983; MacCallum et al., 2002). To the point, in
nine of 11 cases, a higher proportion of managers were rated “too little” on the behaviors opposing
their Top Five strengths compared with those for whom the strength was not in the Top Five, but
six of these differences did not achieve statistical signiﬁcance.
Our intent with this research was to test whether managers overdo leadership behaviors related to
their areas of natural talent and personal strength and neglect opposing but complementary
behaviors. Further, we examined a theoretical explanation based on control theory (Carver & Sheier,
1998; Vancouver, 2008) for why managers may do too much of some behaviors. Speciﬁcally, we
predicted that managers who overdo certain leadership behaviors actually perceive that they do too
little of those behaviors. We found no support for this faulty-gauge explanation for why managers
may overdo some things. However, we did ﬁnd strong support for the contention that they overdo
behaviors related to their strengths and mixed support for the contention that they underdo opposing
but complementary behaviors. These ﬁndings ratify the cautionary saying, “the bigger your hammer,
the more every problem looks like a nail,” and underscore how talent is not an unalloyed gift.
To quantitatively summarize our ﬁndings, we computed the average proportion of managers
rated as overdoing behaviors related to strengths in their Top Five compared to the average
proportion rated as overdoing those behaviors if the strength was not in their Top Five. (We did not
Relationships Between Doing “Too Little,” “The Right Amount,” and “Too Much” of
Strategic and Operational Leadership and Theoretically Relevant Strengths Themes
Strategic leadership Operational leadership
Too little Right amount Too much Too little Right amount Too much
In top 5 1 (33%) 0 (0%) 2 (67%) 2 (67%) 1 (33%) 0 (0%)
Not in top 5 100 (94%) 7 (6%) 0 (0%) 70 (65%) 24 (23%) 13 (12%)
(2, n ⫽ 110) ⫽ 72.67, p ⬍ .001
(2, n ⫽ 110) ⫽ 0.52, ns
In top 5 2 (100%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 1 (50%) 1 (50%) 0 (0%)
Not in top 5 99 (92%) 7 (6%) 2 (2%) 71 (65%) 24 (23%) 13 (12%)
(2, n ⫽ 110) ⫽ 0.18, ns
(2, n ⫽ 110) ⫽ 0.98, ns
In top 5 18 (82%) 3 (14%) 1 (4%) 18 (82%) 4 (18%) 0 (0%)
Not in top 5 83 (94%) 4 (5%) 1 (1%) 54 (61%) 21 (24%) 13 (15%)
(2, n ⫽ 110) ⫽ 3.71, ns
(2, n ⫽ 110) ⫽ 4.63, p ⬍ .10
In top 5 10 (100%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 5 (50%) 1 (10%) 4 (40%)
Not in top 5 91 (91%) 7 (7%) 2 (2%) 67 (65%) 24 (23%) 9 (12%)
(2, n ⫽ 110) ⫽ 0.98, ns
(2, n ⫽ 110) ⫽8.58, p ⬍ .05
In top 5 9 (100%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 9 (100%)
Not in top 5 92 (91%) 7 (7%) 2 (2%) 72 (65%) 25 (23%) 4 (12%)
(2, n ⫽ 110) ⫽ 0.87, ns
(2, n ⫽ 110) ⫽ 73.14, p ⬍ .001
In top 5 16 (89%) 2 (11%) 0 (0%) 7 (39%) 5 (28%) 6 (33%)
Not in top 5 85 (93%) 5 (5%) 2 (2%) 65 (71%) 20 (22%) 7 (8%)
(2, n ⫽ 110) ⫽ 1.17, ns
(2, n ⫽ 110) ⫽ 10.99, p ⬍ .01
Note. Figures in bold indicate predicted relationships. ns indicates “not signiﬁcant.”
include Intellection-Strategic leadership in this computation because these variables were not related
in our analyses.) Similarly, we computed the average proportion of managers rated as doing too little
of opposing but complementary behaviors when a strength was in their Top Five versus not in their
Top Five. Although the incidence of overdoing the four leadership behaviors was not great (about
12% of the scale scores were in the “too much” region), it was highly associated with one’s personal
strengths. On average, managers overdid behaviors related to their Top Five strengths 51% of the
time, compared with only 10% when the associated strength was not in their Top Five. In other
words, managers in our sample were ﬁve times more likely to overdo behaviors related to their
strengths. By comparison, managers did too little of behaviors that were opposing and complemen-
tary to the behaviors related to their Top Five strengths 90% of the time, compared with 73% when
the opposing strength was not in their Top Five. That is, managers in our sample were 1.23 times
more likely to neglect opposing behaviors. Thus, the effect of overdoing behaviors related to one’s
strengths seems quite robust and about four times stronger than the effect of underdoing comple-
mentary but opposing behaviors (5 vs. 1.23).
Limitations and Future Research
No research study is perfect, and the present effort is no exception. We note limitations and needs
for future research concerning methodology, design, and substantive questions.
Methodology. The ﬁrst limitation concerns the problem with reducing strengths scores from
continuous variables to dichotomous, In Top Five/Not in Top Five categories. As we have noted
several times, this produces a signiﬁcant reduction in variance, and may even have introduced error
variance, which means that our statistical results represent underestimates of the strength of
association between the StrengthsFinder themes and the leadership behaviors (Cohen, 1983;
MacCallum et al., 2002). This may be the reason we found limited statistical signiﬁcance in support
for the “lopsided leadership” effect because the results for doing too little of complementary but
opposing behaviors were consistently in the expected direction but smaller in magnitude compared
with the effect of overdoing strengths. Future research could help address the question of neglecting
opposing behaviors in two ways: ﬁrst, by using continuous scores for variables in the analyses, and
second, by utilizing larger samples to increase statistical power.
Another methodological limitation has to do with restrictions in our leadership behavior variables.
In particular, the results for Strategic leadership were not as consistent as the results for Forceful,
Enabling, and Operational leadership. This probably was as result of the low incidence of managers
rated as “too Strategic” in our sample (only two of 110). This is not uncommon in samples of
middle-level managers, as was the majority of our sample, because prior research shows that few
managers are rated as too strategic and when they are, they tend to be in more senior roles where
the work involves a larger strategic component (Kaplan & Kaiser, 2006). Future research may
beneﬁt from utilizing more senior samples in the hopes of representing a greater degree of overdoing
strategic leadership behavior.
Finally, we recommend that future research on strengths and leadership behavior also consider a
broader range of measures. For instance, to measure personal strengths researchers may wish to also
consider two other widely used inventories—Realize2 (Linley, 2009) and Values in Action (Peterson
& Seligman, 2002). These instruments include continuous scale scores and therefore may be more
amenable to statistical research. Further, to the extent that ﬁndings replicate across measures, we can
have greater conﬁdence that they will generalize to particular applications.
Design. Our primary interest concerned the effects of strengths-based development for
managers. Some popular applications of this approach focus on raising the self-awareness of
managers about their strengths so that they can make greater use of those strengths. These
applications emphasize strengths and downplay weaknesses on the assumption that there is more
utility in maximizing strengths than in ﬁxing weaknesses (Buckingham & Clifton, 2001; Rath,
2007). Our concern is that this philosophy may inadvertently play into a general tendency to overdo
what comes naturally and avoid what does not. The present research substantiates this hypothesized
104 KAISER AND OVERFIELD
However, it is important to recognize that our results do not prove that strengths-based devel-
opment causes managers to get further out of balance. Our research does suggest, however, that the
possibility is likely unless preventative measures are taken to proactively ward against the robust
tendency for managers to overdo their strengths. Nonetheless, further research is needed to evaluate
the claim that a focus on maximizing strengths and ignoring weaknesses may lead managers further
out of balance. Ideally, such research would be longitudinal and include an experimental design that
compares a control group to both “strengths-only” and “strengths and weaknesses” treatment groups
to isolate the cause-and-effect relationships.
Substantive questions. There are two substantive questions that deserve further research.
First, we found no published studies in the peer-reviewed literature that tested the impact of
strengths-based development. What little research we were able to locate through Internet searches
mostly came from internal publications provided by organizations with a commercial interest in
promoting the strengths approach. One exception is an unpublished academic study of the effects
maximizing strengths versus improving weaknesses in a sample of undergraduate students (Haidt,
2002). The results showed that students in the maximize strengths condition enjoyed the exercise
more than those who focused on improving their weaknesses, but there were no differences in terms
of changes in self-esteem, subjective well-being, and health status or in terms of the frequency of
subjectively experienced positive or negative events, overall moods, or number of “bad days”
(Haidt, 2002). Future research is clearly needed to evaluate the claims that a focus on strengths
makes people happier and more effective in family, community, education, and work roles.
The second substantive question in need of further research concerns why managers overdo
behaviors related to their strengths. We found no support for the “faulty gauge” explanation based
on control theory. A more parsimonious explanation may be simply that managers are likely to get
carried away with behaviors that stem from their strengths, which they presumably enjoy doing and
that come naturally (Buckingham & Clifton, 2001). Another reason worthy of further consideration
is Freedman’s (1998) hypothesis that a history of reinforcement in lower-level managerial jobs
makes it difﬁcult for managers to change certain behaviors to adapt to different requirements at more
senior levels. In addition to being straightforward, this potential explanation also has the beneﬁt of
being consistent with McCall and Lombardo’s (1983) original observation that the derailment
dynamic, strengths becoming weaknesses, was most prevalent after managers were promoted to the
Recommendations for Practice
We believe that the emergence of positive psychology helps to move the ﬁeld forward and redress
an historical imbalance focused on the negatives. Further, we believe that an increased emphasis on
strengths may improve the effectiveness of leadership development efforts. However, we caution
against the possibility of overcorrection. To that end, we make the following recommendations for
the application of strengths-based development for managers.
First, an appropriately holistic and balanced assessment should focus on both strengths and
weaknesses. After all, strengths help managers get ahead, but weaknesses get them ﬁred (Kaiser,
2009). We also recommend using two types of assessment. First, we recommend a psychometric
inventory like the various strengths surveys mentioned above or an omnibus personality battery that
probes both the bright and dark sides. These tools provide an objective assessment that can be
calibrated against an appropriate norm group. Second, we also recommend coworker feedback in
terms of both verbal and quantitative descriptions of observed behavior. This type of assessment
provides information about how one uses his or her strengths as seen by others in the workplace.
Coworker feedback also provides information about relative weaknesses and their impact. It is
useful to validate inferences from psychometric tools with coworker observations to put a focus on
the key themes that stand out and warrant the greatest attention in development.
Second, it is important to ensure that the assessment includes a provision for detecting strengths
overused. Although the phrase “a strength can become a weakness” is common, assessment tools
designed on this premise are lacking. For instance, most 360-degree feedback surveys use ﬁve-point
rating scales that assume “more is better” and do not distinguish doing a lot of a behavior from doing
too much of it or distinguish underdoing from overdoing as two distinct classes of performance
problems (Kaiser & Kaplan, 2005). An alternative is to use open-ended questions to solicit feedback
with prompts that explicitly ask if the manager does anything too much or takes anything to
Recognizing that an assessment of strengths overused is not common, we provide the following
● Where possible, add to the design of coworker feedback systems a provision to separately
assess for strengths, strengths overused, and shortcomings. For instance, interviews or open-ended
survey questions could be designed around Peter Drucker’s (1967) recommended model of asking
what the manager should start doing, stop doing, and continue doing. The things that coworkers say
a manager should stop doing provide feedback about strengths overused.
● Follow up on high scores from standard 360s that utilize “more is better” rating scales by
asking colleagues if they perceive that the individual does too much of those things. This can help
distinguish high scores that indicate doing a lot of a given behavior and appropriately so from doing
too much of it.
● Encourage managers to ask coworkers (or even a trusted friend or spouse)—“Do I go
overboard in any respect? Am I out of balance on any of the major dualities like tough/tender, taking
charge/delegating, talking/listening, big picture/details, expansive/conservative, innovation/
efﬁciency, breadth/depth, and so forth?” To focus this exercise, you could ask the manager to
articulate what he or she believes to be the one skill, competency, or behavior that best exempliﬁes
outstanding leaders. Then ask others how that attribute is expressed in the manager’s leadership.
Managers tend to overdo those things they highly value (Kaplan, 1999).
● Once it is established that a manager does too much of something, ask the person “What
compels you to do this too much? As you think about doing less of this behavior, what concerns
come to mind? Do you worry that anything bad might happen?” This will help unpack the
psychology that underlies the extreme behavior.
Finally, it may be necessary to take extra steps to ensure that managers internalize feedback
about their strengths. Managers often do not know the extent of their own strengths— especially the
outstanding ones—and, ironically, they are often uncomfortable with feedback about them (Kaplan,
1999; Kaplan & Kaiser, 2006, Ch. 3). When confronted with information that highlights the
discrepancy between their self-view and coworker views (and even objective data), managers are at
no loss for discounting the praise. There are many reasons why they resist positive feedback (Kaplan
& Kaiser, 2010). For one, there is the common discomfort with compliments; most people ﬁnd it
mildly embarrassing to receive praise. Some worry about becoming complacent. Others fear
becoming arrogant or getting a swelled head. Strong norms against bragging are also at play. So is
the well-documented “negativity bias”—the evolutionary-based tendency to place greater attention
on threats than on rewards because threats were more central to the survival of our ancestors
(Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Finkenauer, & Vohs, 2001). Kaplan and Kaiser (2010) provide an
extensive curriculum and set of related techniques for helping managers overcome resistance to
positive feedback and get the strengths to sink in.
We hope that our research is not taken to suggest that management and leadership development
efforts should not help people become more aware of their strengths so that they can make better
use of them. It is our belief that both strengths and weaknesses should be addressed in development.
But simple prescriptions that pose the matter as either strengths or weaknesses are doomed to be
minimally effective at best, no matter which side is chosen. Both are important. However, the main
point we wish to contribute to the dialogue started by the strengths movement is that there is such
a thing as too much of a good thing. A more effective way of working with strengths in the
development of managers considers the possibility of strengths becoming weaknesses through
overuse and the problems directly caused by excess as well as the corollary problem of lopsided
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Received April 11, 2011
Revision received May 24, 2011
Accepted May 24, 2011
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