Management and Leadership Series Posted by Nicola Maxwell

You wouldn’t expect a fish to purr…. would you?

No, that would clearly be ridiculous!  And yet there are regular instances of people in organisations being asked to do things they simply aren’t good at.

Research by Gallup has found that when leaders focus and invest in people’s strengths, the odds of each person being engaged increases eight-fold.  Engagement breeds productivity so it’s a recipe for success. As a leader you want to get the most from your people.   The sure-fire way to do that is to create a culture focused on strength.

Strengths-focused leaders share some core beliefs:

1. I don’t need to be strong at everything

No one person is the full package. We all have our limitations and, dare I say, weaknesses!

Successful leaders work to their strengths and recognise that other people bring what they can’t. For instance, if you’re not the kind of person that spontaneously comes up with new and alternative ideas, you’ll benefit from having someone on your team that can.

2. Everyone has strength

Look out for it. Understand it. Appreciate it.

Listen for it in what people say about themselves – “I really enjoyed collaborating with the team to get that project over the line” gives you an insight that they have relationship-building strengths. Tune in to what other people are saying about them. Watch out for what they do first or where they show initiative. What do they pick up easily and when do they shine with confidence?

It’s not just about observations; it’s also about conversations. Understand their strengths by talking to them about what they do, how they do it and why. That will give you real understanding.

I’ve worked with many teams who all know and understand each other’s strengths but they’re missing that final piece of genuinely appreciating them. It helps to explore how one person’s strengths complement another person’s strengths. For instance, combining your ideas person with someone who has a preference for action can ensure those great ideas see the light of day.

3. People perform better if they are allowed to play to their strengths

It shouldn’t be a surprise – in those moments of doing work that plays to our strengths we’re aware of how much more absorbed we become. Time seems to pass faster. We’ve reached a state of ‘flow’.

As a leader, consider what you can delegate to enable people to play to their strengths. If you have managers reporting to you, encourage them to do this too.

As you get a better understanding of people’s strengths you may realise that you need to reassign tasks to different people. Moving intensive data analysis work away from someone whose strength lies in working with others is like throwing them a lifeline!

When setting goals with your people introduce more of a strengths focus to the conversation. Ask them what strength an objective is likely to play to? What other strengths might they need to draw on to help? What weaknesses might this show up and how can they manage these?

4. People develop faster when they focus on building their strengths

When we put our efforts into developing our strengths we accelerate our performance in remarkable measure. It’s vital we re-focus these conversations and only develop weaknesses that are critical to the role and that we only develop people to the point of ‘good enough’. It’s a fallacy to think that someone who has recoiled from pitching for new business will suddenly become the firm’s best pitcher.

So when you talk development with your people, encourage them to consider what areas of strength they’d like to build upon. For example, if you have someone who is adept at forecasting future trends in the market could they enhance this strength still further by attending conferences or attending a course to deepen their skills?

Don’t ask your fish to purr – let them swim. After all, it’s what they do best.

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