Every Strength Has a Shadow

Achiever. Analytical.  Input.  Futuristic.  Command.

Several years ago when I completed the Gallup Strengthsfinder Test, the above traits were identified as my top 5 strengths.  Yet, are they strengths?  If you ask someone else they may use these descriptors instead:

Workaholic.  Overly-critical.  Overwhelming.  Dreamer.  Bossy (or another B word).

Balancing other people’s perceptions is difficult, and yet, as a building principal I must find this equilibrium, because, just as I wrote about in my blog “Focus on the Whole Elephant”, others’ perceptions are also their truths.   Through my years of working with adults I’ve learned that with every strength there is also a shadow lurking around.  And for those of you who have ever been scared of the dark when you were little, or have walked in a dark strange place, you know that shadows can be scary.

After I first learned about my strengths our entire staff attended a workshop.  The facilitator of the workshop asked us each to stand as she read aloud the Clifton Strength that matched our Top 5.  I remember she read “command” and not one person stood.  I was a teacher at the time and I immediately felt embarrassed as I noticed Command on my Top 5 list sitting in front of me.  I interpreted Command as demanding, bossy, and not nice.  I reluctantly stood.  And as I felt everyone’s eyes on me, the facilitator went on to say that many people have Command as a strength, however, very few have command in their Top 5.  Although I’m sure it wasn’t her intent, her words made me regret standing even more.  Not only do I now perceive myself as demanding, but just like that, everyone who didn’t realize it before, thinks without a doubt, that I must be a difficult person.  Or at least that’s how I perceived it.  And as far as I could discern from the facilitator’s anecdote, I am more demanding and difficult than most in the world.  Great.  I am doomed.  How could this possibly be a strength?

Many years have passed since then and, for the most part, I have learned how to manage my strengths and their inferior twins.  I have also realized the good in Command.  Nevertheless, I will admit, Command is a strength that at times casts a shadow.  My actions could be perceived as stepping up or stepping on; steering clear of danger or avoidance; taking charge when things are difficult or bossy. 

Through trial and error I have learned there is a skill set to tap into strengths.  I’ve had to develop a filtering mechanism to avoid misperceptions, and I’ve realized that one solitary strength is not enough.  When I gather input, provide a vision for the future, and help others achieve that vision (other identified strengths of mine) then my actions of Command don’t seem so bad.

Command has served me well.  It means to not be frightened by change and to face facts head on.  People with Command have a way to see through the conflict, remove it, and usher in a solution.  I shouldn’t have been embarrassed to stand up during our strengths workshop.  At the time, I was terrified of my own shadow.