Find The Strength Behind Your Reactive Behaviours

It was a lightbulb moment when I saw that our strengths when overused could also be our shadows (or weaknesses if you prefer that language).  For example, our strong loyalty, when used too much could mean we stay in relationships longer than we should. Our sense of humour when overused can mean that we fail to read the situation and try to make people laugh when that isn’t what’s needed, or our stellar organizational skills when overused can have us become rigid and controlling. Our strengths propel us forward, but our shadows can hold us back.

This was a powerful insight. It meant that I could leverage my natural strengths to achieve my goals; however, I couldn’t do it mindlessly. I needed to be awake and aware of how and when I used my strengths. 

But what about the other side of the coin – can our reactive behaviours (i,e., how we behave when we’re scared, overwhelmed, or stressed), become strengths?

I’m not proposing that our temper or our need to take over, our criticism or withdrawal, our conflict aversion or a need to always please others, is a strength; but rather I’m asking if there is anything underneath the behaviour that we can leverage as a strength?

In the book Mastering Leadership by Bob Anderson and Bill Adams, the creators of the Leadership Circle Profile, they talk about the ‘gifts of the reactive’. They explore the various behaviours that get in our way, and often get us into trouble, and argue that despite the challenge and potentially negative impact of these behaviours, they have at their core, a gift or strength. 

They propose that there are three gifts: heart, intellect and will.  

To access the gift and mitigate the problematic behaviour, we need to put the brakes on needing to protect and prove ourselves, and instead orient to something bigger and more purposeful. 

What does this look like?

At the core of conflict aversion and desire to please is the gift of a big heart and an affinity for relationships. How can we mature that gift and move from those behaviours to ones that support and nurture relationships in a healthier way?

At the core of criticism or acting distant and withdrawn is the gift of intellect. How can we mature your capacity to communicate your ideas and listen to those of others with openness and curiosity?

And at the core of our temper and taking things over is the gift of will. How can we mature our capacity to achieve results and make things happen without driving over people in the process? 

It’s a developmental leap from being at the mercy of our reactive behaviours to being able to act with the gifts that underpin them. This is not something that we get to overnight or without work, but we will get there with determination, intention, and practice. 

Why should we bother growing up and maturing your reactive behaviours? The answer is we’ll be a more effective leader who is able to connect deeply and inspire others, walk your talk, see what’s needed in the larger system, and achieve great things.

Life is short, so if nothing else, isn’t it worth aiming to be the best version of ourselves?


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