Focus on What People Do Right

  • Jon was tired of complaining to me about Linda. A Director of his firm’s division, one of Jon’s senior level managers was taking up too much time and attention. “Every few months we have the same conversation. She doesn’t delegate and doesn’t develop her people. Her commitments take her out of the office so much that she rarely meets with them to provide feedback or instruction. I am not getting through to her“

  • Mary, a Vice President in financial services was reading yet another book on finding the key to solving her “problem employee problem,” as she struggled to find a yet another new way to work with Steve. “No matter how many times I talk with him about this issue, he still can not figure out how to work well with women on a team. He is a smart guy about so many other things – but on this issue, he is a total twit.”

  • Jean is wondering if it isn’t time to start a formal written record of her conversations with Sharon. “She has talent by the bushel but she doesn’t check her work. Sure, the errors are caught before things go out, but I don’t see any improvement. There is always some aspect of her work that is simply unacceptable.”

While the names have been changes to protect their privacy, you may recognize these managers. They spend a huge amount of their time focusing on the best way to improve an employee’s area of weakness. While I have many clients and colleagues whose staff is fairly accomplished, requiring relatively little guidance from them, I have far more who wonder how their employees will ever develop to the next level or be capable of more sophisticated work.

If you are spending too much of your time with employees focusing on the best way to improve areas of weakness, you aren’t alone. Your management style may be ‘old school,’ and you are wasting valuable time.

Focus instead on creating a strength-based workplace rather than doing remedial work with folks. The reality of any workplace, whether it is a Fortune 100 firm, non-profit organization or an educational institution, is that there are some very real limits as to how much you can really change another person. But there are huge contributions every person can make if you leveraging the capabilities, talents and skills that the person possesses.

The 80/20 rule often applies to boss-employee interaction: the boss spends 80% of their time with the 20% of the employees that require the most help and support. What would happen if the boss focused on the things that the employees did well? By focusing on people’s strengths, they might spend more time boosting the most productive employees.

Both managing (getting work done through others) and leading (developing committed followers) are important. The managers who are head and shoulders above the rest are those that coach, support, and mentor. These are the folks who focus on the strengths of their employees so that they believe in their own success. Leaders focus others on a better future. They inspire others with their optimism and confidence combined with clarity about organizational goals and objectives, as well as ideas about how people can move things forward daily.

Successful managers cut out the things that they don’t like doing in order to unleash the power of their strengths. If you want people to be successful, look at how best to leverage their strengths. talents, and abilities, and find ways to eliminate or reduce the things that make them feel less confident.

  • Perhaps Jon makes Linda a senior level individual contributor who is charge of projects rather than people. If managing others is not a priority, repeating that it should be won’t make it one.

  • Putting Steve in situations where he embarrasses himself, the firm, or alienates a percentage of the company’s employees is good for no one. Mary can reduce her headaches by not having Steve lead teams. She might also suggest to employees that while Steve is talented and skilled, his ability to work with everyone at the professional level desired is a ‘work in progress.’ Staff might also make him aware, confidentially, when his remarks veer off course.

  • Jean might help Sharon find someone who IS a good proof reader and barter a trade in an area where she has a talent or skill they can use. While Sharon may never be good at proofing her work, paying attention to what she is NOT good at and making sure there is some quality control in place is definitely something she can get better at attending to.

A good question to ask every professional is “Do you like what you are doing, or are you drained by it?”

Figure out what people don’t like doing and figure out how to reduce it or even better yet, eliminate it. Focus on encouraging and developing the talent that you hired someone for in the first place.

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