It is hard to believe that I once bought into the theory that we hire people for what they can contribute to the organization, and then we build their initial development plans looking not only at strengths, but shortly thereafter begin to focus on weaknesses or areas of opportunity for growth. Like we can change them before the year has even passed? The danger lies in thinking that we want to.
We all have strengths. They are what we strive to bring forward in ourselves. We want to be successful and add value. As Markus Buckingham, noted author and expert on “Strengths” indicates, “—your particular combination of strengths—is deeply a part of who you are.”
We have a great model of this in our recent Olympic history. Michael Phelps, who ended his record-breaking careerwith 23 gold medals, is an example of the power of focus on strength. Easy? No. Over the years Phelps has struggled both in and out of the pool. Finding his resolve, he was always able to return to what he does best…swim. To train, to improve, to grow stronger in what he excels at. Not switch sports, no change of direction or retooling of what was already strong within him. As a team member, Phelps brings this talent and winning strategy to the medley relay events. He is a powerful part of a powerful team; each having honed strengths…for one it is the butterfly, for another it is the backstroke. None would be expected to swim the part that was not their strongest.
As a leader, how can you get started leveraging your team’s strengths? First of all, you need to change your mindset. Focus onwhat potential or existing members can bring to the game (business, operations, etc.). Then try the following:
- Go back to your own assessments. You have probably taken many instruments that measure preferences, style, and competence assessments. Now, focus solely on what you did well. Then ask yourself how much that helped serve you.
- Think about the BEST team you were ever part of:
- How did you uniquely contribute?
- How did others uniquely contribute, in the ways you could not?
- Seeing the unique capabilities in others helps identify how to leverage those talents to benefit the whole team. If you don’t do this, as a leader of a team, you will tend to dominate with your strengths. That might be helpful in many situations, but certainly not all.
How can you make a difference in where you play and how you win? “As Buckingham says, “your Strengths can be put to good use, or they can be put to bad use.”
The choice is yours.