Reading time: 5 minutes

Tell me, what is your greatest Strength? Are you blessed with excellent communication skills? A strong analyser? Decisive? Structured? Peaceable? Results-oriented?

Before reading any further, take a little time to reflect upon following 2 questions:

⇒ What do others appreciate in you?
⇒ What do you encourage in other people?

Let’s say we start an individual Coaching trajectory together. What would be your first goal to set? What would you like to be the outcome of your Coaching?

Step 1 – It’s not about Weaknesses

Working with managers at top level, it strikes me that we rarely talk about development of Weaknesses. Let me give you an example.

Let us assume the following. Now and then you really need to take some time to reorganise your desk space. If not, you get lost in the clutter. Despite your good intentions of keeping it clean every time you have de-cluttered, you are just not the structured type. And it’s not only about your desk. But is this really what you need working at? Becoming the organised type? I’m pretty sure it’s not.

No matter what the Weakness is, at one point in your career you have learned to deal with it. As a successful manager, you managed to put systems in place to deal with your shortcomings. Whether you chose a career that matches your Strengths or you have surrounded yourself with people that are complementary to you.

Step 2 – From Strengths to Pitfalls

In my experience, our biggest challenge as a professional human being is not overdoing your Strengths. Not over-communicating instead of being a strong communicator. Avoid nagging when being the decisive type. No lapsing into rigidity when you attach importance to structure. Behaving undecided instead of peaceable. Individualistic instead of results-oriented.

Pay attention to the criticism your receive. It often reflects one of your Strengths that has gone too far. So now go back to the questions above:

⇒ What happens if you overdo your Strength(s)?
⇒ What are other people blaming you for?

This is your Pitfall. In fact it is too much of a good thing.

Don’t worry. It is typical for a human being to stick to its qualities when experiencing pressure or stress. And when deploying too much of a Core Quality you inevitably end up in your Pitfall. Yes, we are talking about the Ofman quadrant here (Daniel Ofman, Core Qualities, 1999, 2002).

Step 3 – Define your Challenge

When setting goals for Coaching, it is important to look at ones Challenge. The Challenge according to Ofman is the opposite of ones Pitfall. An example?

Suppose you are a strong analyser. But when stress increases, you risk falling into your Pitfall, which might be losing yourself in details. The opposite is keeping the big picture in mind. This is your Challenge. Combining your Strength with your Challenge makes your Pitfall disappear. So you pay attention to details with the big picture in mind.

Although it doesn’t come naturally to you, your Challenge is always complementary to your Strength / Core quality in a positive way.

Step 4 – Recognize your Allergy

– In yourself: When pressure becomes too high, you not only risk ending up in your Pitfall, you can trap straight into your own Allergy. This is the negative opposite of your own Strength and too much of your Challenge.

Example: The decisive person has been nagging so much without any results and gives up completely. He’s now behaving passively, which is in fact his worst Allergy.

– In others: They say the one colleague that triggers a negative reaction in you, can learn you a lot about yourself. This is true. When looking at the quadrant of Ofman, you will see the behaviour that’s annoying you is exactly what’s in your Allergy zone. Even more, it is too much of your very own Challenge.

Example: A reasoned person with a Pitfall in indecisiveness will hate working with an impulsive type. There’s too much of his challenge there, which is decisiveness. And need I mention this works in both directions?

This thin line between Challenge and Allergy makes it difficult for us to balance. You don’t want to fall into your Allergy, right?

Experiencing this annoyance, you can use the Ofman quandrant backwards. Take your Allergy, make it smaller and positive (your Challenge). Find the opposite of your Challenge (your Pitfall) and make this smaller and positive again (your Strenght / Core quality). You now will understand why this person annoys you so much. And you are probably annoying him. Time to talk and make some arrangements?

So, when thinking about your own Strengths:

⇒ What is your Pitfall? (too much of your Strength)
⇒ What is your Challenge? (the positive opposite of your Pitfall)
⇒ What is your Allergy? (too much of your Challenge)

Combine this with your Survival Strategy from our January blog and you can start goal setting for your individual Coaching ;-)

Questions or remarks? Feel free to comment!

Sofie Varrewaere is the founder of After studying a Master in Psychological and Pedagogical Sciences, she ogled into the magical world of Recruitment, Selection and HR Services. Working for the world leader in HR, she has always been in an advisory role in relation to the larger goals of several multinational organizations. In 2013 she started her own company in International executive Coaching. Doing what she is good at, challenging others as well as herself.