Are You Overplaying Your Strengths?

Are You Overplaying Your Strengths?

BY Michelle McQuaid

Ever had one of those moments where trying to do your very best work, no one seems to be appreciating your efforts? In fact, perhaps they even seem a little bit annoyed or frustrated with you?

For me this can be true when I’m leading a project and feel like all systems are firing as we plan our milestones, set up our budgets and put our team in place. Then as we set out at full speed to accomplish great things, little by little I notice the wheels are starting to fall off. People are run down and sick. Tasks are executed in a clumsy manner. Stakeholders aren’t quite kept up to date.

Even though we’ve always managed to limp across the finish line, I’ve been left scratching my head more than once about how tasks that were so suited to my strengths of zest, creativity and perseverance could leave me feeling so depleted, disappointed and burn out.

There’s no doubt that using your strengths – the things you’re good at and enjoy doing at work – has been found to have a host of benefits. For example, just recently I partnered with the VIA Institute to randomly sample 1,000 American employees and we found that 70% of employees who use their strengths each day at work describe themselves as flourishing at work over the last six months.

But let’s be honest, at times we’re all prone to overplaying our strengths and undermining our performance and wellbeing in the process. Be it too much “honesty” that leaves someone reeling from our frank delivery of a message, too much “kindness” that leaves us burnt out, or too much “hope” that has us committing to way too many tasks.

The secret I’ve learned is being mindful of a simple formula that has helped me understand how to use my strengths so they’re “just right”. So what is the formula?

Can You Successfully Put Your Strengths To Work?

Lots of the existing advice around strengths encourages people to “use your strengths more”.  But just like you wouldn’t use a hammer to fix everything in your house without expecting to end up with holes where you didn’t want them, you don’t want to apply your strengths like they’re a blunt instrument.

Instead Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener and his colleagues recommend the secret to using your strengths effectively is to ensure you’re choosing the right strength, in the right amount and at the right time. He calls this the “golden mean” of our strengths.

You see your strengths don’t just exist within you, they are also shaped by the contexts you find yourself in. After all you don’t want to use a strength like “love” at work in the wrong way or you could find yourself fired for it!

So how can you improve the ways you’re putting your strengths to work? In this episode of Chelle McQuaid TV, I’ll show you the simple formula you can use to strike the “golden mean” of your strengths more often at work.

What can you do to get your strengths just right?

Here are four practical steps I recommend to find your golden mean more consistently:

  • Firstly get clear on what your strengths actually are. If you can’t name your top five strengths head on over to and take the free ten minute strengths survey to help you understand what you look like at your best.
  • Secondly, to help you bring these generic descriptions to life look for the times when you’re hitting the golden mean of your strengths and getting them just right. You can do this by simply thinking back on those high-point moments —the times that are memorable and stand out when you’ve felt really engaged, energized, and enjoying what you were doing at work. What exactly was happening in these moment? What were you doing? How did you feel? What makes these moment so memorable? And, most importantly, which of your top strengths were you using (there may be more than one strength in play) in each of these moments?
  • Thirdly, it’s important to also understand where you may be underplaying your strengths. These will be the times you’ve hesitated, held yourself back or dimmed yourself down at work. To find these moments simply think back to those times when you’ve missed an opportunity at work because you lacked confidence, feared failure, or you didn’t want to stand out from your peers. What exactly was happening in these moments? What were you working on? What might have holding yourself back cost you or your team? And, most importantly, which of your top strengths could you have dialed up to make this situation easier, more energizing and enjoyable?
  • Finally, you need to be aware of where you’re overplaying your strengths – and we all do from time to time. These will be the times when you feel like everything should be going really well, but it’s not quite coming together the way you hoped. Think back on the times when despite trying to do your best work people perhaps haven’t been as appreciative as you’d expect, things haven’t really gone to plan or you’ve felt on the verge of burning yourself out. What exactly was happening in these moments? How did it feel to be working so hard and yet still be unable to deliver the results you wanted or be appreciated for your efforts? And which of your strengths were you overplaying in this situation that, if dialed back a little, could have helped you get a better outcome?

In my experience, if you scratch the surface of most of the feedback you’ve ever been given on your weaknesses you’ll probably find it’s a strength you’re overplaying. For example, for years various bosses had told me to “slow down” a little at work so others could catch up. But slowing down was not in my nature – it wasn’t how I enjoyed working – and to be honest I had no real motivation to fix this weakness. When I discovered one of my top strengths was “zest” – energy and vitality – I realized what they were describing was actually my strength being overplayed and dialing it down – essentially slowing down a little – became a whole lot easier. I was motivated to wanted to use this strength well and felt confident I could fine tune its use in different situations to achieve different results.

To help you explore how you can apply this formula to create more success in your career download this playsheet from my book Your Strengths Blueprint.

So what does the golden mean of your strengths really look like?

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