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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Positive Leadership: Focus on Employees' Strengths and Potential (Not on Their Weaknesses)

It is much easier to focus on what your employees do well than to try to fix their weaknesses. However, many leaders don’t understand how to translate this truth into how they lead on a day-to-day basis. So how do you make it happen?

Understanding your employees’ potential is going to take some energy and thought on your part, especially if, like many of us, you’re used to focusing on what people are rather than what they could be. 

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
  • Can they do something well that isn’t in their formal training or experience?
  • Compare them to others with the same experience—are they doing anything faster or better?
  • Do they appear to enjoy certain projects more than others?
  • What kind of work do they show the most ownership for?
  • What kind of work do they need the least guidance from you to do?
  • What have they produced that has genuinely surprised you?
  • Once you’ve identified employees’ strengths, take a few minutes in your next one-on-one meeting to tell them what they’re doing especially well, or to describe the potential you see in them in a particular area. Get their perspective. Do they know what they’re good at? How can you help them leverage those strengths? Do what you can, but then get out of the way! 

Now, here are a few practical suggestions to help you bring out hidden strengths in your team members:
  • Ask them what they like about their job and what they are less enthusiastic about. Make a list. Add the strengths in them that you see that they have not listed. Discuss how—or whether—these strengths map onto their current job or role.
  • Even when giving corrective feedback, talk about the strengths you see in them.
  • Instead of viewing them as a problem employee, take the approach that there has to be something they do well and it’s your job to help them find it.
  • See whether you can structure the job around their strengths.
  • If you can’t offer them a job or project that plays to their strengths, consider whether the employee might thrive in another part of the company.

The lesson is simple: Spend your time and energy developing your employees’ strengths and limit your effort to address their shortcomings; in these weak areas, they need only be passable. This is not the same as saying that you should ignore weaknesses completely. In fact, one of the most important aspects of Positive Leadership is acting swiftly and decisively in the face of poor performance. Nevertheless, even in this situation you must focus more time and energy on developing your team’s strengths.

Once you discover the individual strengths of your employees and provide them with appropriate coaching, you’ll set them on the course to develop their true potential. This will benefit both parties!


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