The Popeye Arm: When a Strength Gets Too Strong
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses but what is interesting is that most everyone has a strength that is too strong. In fact it is so strong it takes over in most situations, which prevents the growth of new skills and strengths.
I call this overpowering strength the “Popeye Arm.” It is a big, bulging, strong skill that can be depended upon to solve all of life’s problems. The problem with such a strong skill is that this strength is not always the appropriate response to the various situations that you will face on the job. Its prevalent use will actually limit your ability to solve each specific problem in the best possible way.
The Popeye Arm is a strength that overpowers all other skills and pushes them out of the way. Some strengths that are commonly too strong include:
Empathy: when too strong it puts the manager in a role of only empathizing with his team so she cannot get above the issues, see clearly and lead the team. Result: getting caught up in the employee’s answers/reasons/drama without progressing the issue by resolution.
Ability: when one is good at a skill they have developed over time, they want to use it. When working with new people managers frequently pull out their skills to get things done rather than involve and train their team to learn new skills. Result: the team stays weak and helpless, which requires the manager to use his skill every day.
Kindness: a great skill that sometimes overpowers other traits. Managers who are known for being kind consider upholding the rules as almost unkind so shy away from correcting their team. Result: a lack of standards and thus lack of consistency.
Big picture thinking: when someone can see the big picture they have a hard time starting a project because it seems very overwhelming; there is so much to do to fulfill the big picture. Result: a loss of momentum, an inability to see things through and frustration that nothing gets done.
Creativity: when a manager is very creative they may find upholding the standard and the day-to-day very boring and they may seek to recreate established standards and procedures. Result: a waste of time recreating the wheel and little forward progress.
Perfectionism: many managers are hired because of their attention to detail and desire for things to go right. Perfectionism is a big barrier to progress as it can slow things down and the big picture is minimized in comparison to the small, minute details.
If you recognize that one of your skills has taken over the key is to be self-aware. Usually the Popeye Arm comes to the rescue when there is a new situation to address. This is perfectly natural. So, the key is to notice when the desire to fall into your comfort zone comes up and then consider some options (unutilized strengths or skills) that you don’t usually deploy.
The only way to learn new skills and build new strengths is by trying them out. I always advise my clients to try stuff out and track the results. Every day you have a chance to try something new or improve what you’ve got! Little by little you will develop new skills and build additional strengths that you can add to your management repertoire. And this will help you build confidence in your role, create balance in your work life, and progress in your career.