More Is Better, Up To A Point — and Then It's Worse

26 Aug 2016. Robert E. Kaplan and Robert B. Kaiser

Too much of a good thing—you've heard that before.

Strengths taken to an extreme are weaknesses—that's not news.

Chances are, though, you haven't seen that reality applied to leaders in a quantitative way—mapped and graphed in all its glory.*

Taking the lead: there's nothing more basic than that. The graph below demonstrates it's just as ineffective, just as self-defeating, to do too much of it as to do too little.

That data consists of ratings of 1,066 executives by over 12,000 of their coworkers. They were rated on how much, in their role, they take the lead—too little, the right amount, or too much.** That's the horizontal axis.

They were also rated on overall effectiveness, where 5 is "adequate" 10 is "outstanding." That's the vertical axis.

Letting others lead: just as basic as taking the lead and the diametrical opposite, "soft," yielding, as opposed to "hard," exerting. Yet it's the same story.

In both graphs, an upward-thrusting parabola that looks every bit like the nose cone of a rocket. That dramatic pattern describes a law of nature that applies to every leadership trait, without exception: beyond a certain point, more is worse, returns diminish.

* Using the Leadership Versatility Index, a tool expressly designed to measure not just strengths and weaknesses but also strengths taken too far.

** For advice on how to know whether you're overdoing it and how to rectify that, you might read our Harvard Business Review article, "Stop Overdoing Your Strengths" and our book, "Fear Your Strengths: What You Are Best At Could Be Your Biggest Problem". Visit www.fearyourstrengths to take a self-assessment‎.