- Lucia is tired of complaining to me about Tom. A Director of her firm’s division, one of Lucia’s senior level managers is taking up too much time and attention. “Every few months we have the same conversation. He doesn’t delegate and doesn’t develop his people. His commitments take him out of the office so much that he rarely meets with them to provide feedback or instruction. I am not getting through to him“
- Kenya, a Vice President in financial services is reading yet another book on finding the key to solving her “problem employee problem,” as she struggles to find a yet another new way to work with John. “No matter how many times I talk with him about this issue, he still can’t 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.”
- Casey is wondering if it isn’t time to start a formal written record of her conversations with Sam. “She has talent by the bushel but she doesn’t proof 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 find yourself spending much of your time focusing on the best way to improve an employee’s areas of weakness, you are not alone. Your management style may need some updating because you are wasting valuable time.
Focus instead on creating a strength-based workplace rather than doing remedial work with employees. The reality of any workplace, regardless of size or sector is that there are some very real limits as to how much you can really change another person. But there are huge contributions everyone can make if the boss is 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. Managers who are head and shoulders above the rest are those that coach, support, and mentor. These are the people who focus on the strengths of their employees so that the staff believes in their own success. Leaders focus others on a better future. They inspire others with their optimism and confidence about the future, combined with clarity about organizational goals and objectives, and ideas about how employees 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 employees 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 Lucia can make Tom 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 John in situations where he embarrasses himself, the organization, or alienates a percentage of the other employees is good for no one. Kenya can reduce her headaches by not having John lead teams. She might also suggest to employees that while John 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.
- Sam needs to 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 she 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 see if it can be reduced or even better yet, eliminated. Focus on encouraging and developing the talent that you hired someone for in the first place.