While still out on the beach, I laid out a plan. After listing the people in order by respect, I drew two columns. The first column was labeled, Weaknesses. This column can get very long, very quickly because we notice weaknesses first and then have a tendency to concentrate on them. You might ask, "Why write down all those terribly negative things?" This list will become a map through the minefield.
The other column was labeled, Strengths. I stared at the blank column and it stared back at me. It was as though I had writers block. Perhaps I hated to admit this person had any. But, she was the most respected person in the office. She had to have strengths. I forced myself to concentrate on her strengths, which included mathematical ability, loyalty to the company, a good sense of humor, an appreciation for the finer things in life, and so on.
Things I wouldn’t have necessarily associated with strengths on the job began to add up. I began to realize the things that added strength to a person as a whole were strengths he or she could apply to his or her job. My focus began to shift from the huge pile of weaknesses to the huge stack of strengths just beside it within each person. The old dog was learning a new trick.
Once I realized how many strengths this woman had, strengths that weren’t being recognized or put to use in our organization, I was bursting at the seams with enthusiasm the next time I had the chance to talk to her strengths. The strengths column was as long as the weaknesses column. She immediately noticed I was enthusiastic about her potential. I reflected back to her the things she felt were important and valuable. What she thought and felt became my priority instead of ramming my priorities down her throat.
We can transplant hearts and other vital organs from one person to another, but we can’t transplant strengths. Nevertheless, managers and parents try every day and there has never been a successful operation. Our job, therefore, is to be a catalyst between their strengths and the way we'd like to see the job done. You’ll keep adding to both lists over time.
A word of caution: The responsible leader does not leave these lists lying around the office. This is an exercise for you and you alone. Keep your lists at home. Each evening take only a few minutes to pick a couple of your team members from your chart to connect with individually the next day in a coaching session. Select one or two of the strengths from their individual lists that you can show them how to use more of in some part of their jobs. Here are some ways to get started:
- Make a list of the most respected person's weaknesses and a second list of the same person's strengths.
- Keep in mind that the second list will be more difficult because of the long-term propensity to focus on weaknesses.
- Lay out a coaching strategy for each person, based on your awareness of their weaknesses, but emphasizing communication with their strengths.
“Be aware of their weaknesses, but talk to their strengths.”