“The Third Key: Focus on Strengths” (Chapter 5)
In this week’s reflection of “First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently” by Buckingham and Coffman, we are going to discuss the importance or focusing on strengths and spending time with your best employees.
Each person is different and possesses a unique set of talents. Great managers focus on each person’s strengths and manages around his weaknesses. Don’t try to perfect each person into who you want them to be. Instead, do everything you can to help each person cultivate his talents and become more of who he already is.
“You will have to manage around the weaknesses of each and every employee. But if, with one particular employee, you find yourself spending most of your time managing around weaknesses, then know that you have made a casting error. At this point, it is time to fix the casting error and to stop trying to fix the person.”
The authors bring up the point that a common false narrative exists around the belief that everyone has this unlimited potential to be the best at whatever we want to be. If you overcome fears and strengthen your weaknesses, then you are on your way to maximizing your potential. However, great managers don’t fall into this way of thinking. They believe that if everyone truly has the same potential, then we lose our individuality.
Great managers don’t agree with focusing on and defining an employee by his weaknesses. Let him be defined by his strengths. Provide your employees with self-confidence and they will be more likely to find ways to work around weaknesses. In this book, there are three possible routes defined for helping someone to navigate a weakness: “Devise a support system. Find a complementary partner. Or find an alternative role.”
Great managers also believe that you will become frustrated if you waste your time trying to turn non-talents into talents. Now that is not to say persistence is always a waste of time. It is beneficial when learning a new skill or acquiring new knowledge, just not when dealing with talents. The authors describe less effective managers as being “blind to the distinction between skills and knowledge – both of which can be acquired – and talents – which cannot.” These managers are setting employees up for failure and discouragement when they tell them that if they work hard enough, they can transform non-talents into talents.
“Spend time with your best people.” Another topic brought up in this chapter that really got me thinking in a different way than I had before.
I had never really thought much about this topic until reading this chapter. The authors point out that many managers revert to spending so much time focusing on their “strugglers” or less productive employees and not nearly enough time with their most productive employees. At first, you may think this makes sense. However, the argument made by the authors is that everyone responds well to attention. If you ignore your best because you don’t have to worry about them messing up, then over time you run the risk of them becoming complacent and potentially doing less. Give them the attention they deserve and help them to become even better at what they already excel at. Still make time to help the “strugglers,” but show them that the harder they work, the more attention and recognition they will receive. You can’t spend all of your time holding the hands of those who prove to be less productive. At the end of the day, if a struggler can’t find the self-motivation or discipline to want to become better, then are they really the right person to have on your team?
Another benefit to spending more time with your best employees is that you can learn what they are doing to be the most productive. If you can establish what the best internal practices are within your organization, then you can communicate those best practices with the less productive employees in order to help them improve.
Now, although the authors push the importance of spending more time with their best employees, they don’t discount the importance of helping and guiding their other employees. Great managers still have to find ways to bring the best out of everyone on their team. They just wanted to emphasize the point of spending more time with the best as this is often overlooked by many managers. It is easy to get caught up trying to lift up the under performers and unintentionally ignore the overachievers. Great managers are able to praise and learn from the best so that they can provide more valuable assistance to the “strugglers.”