(But, watch out for those weaknesses!)
Many organizations have developed a strengths management approach to developing employees. The idea, based on lots of great research is that employees who are encouraged develop their strengths will be more engaged and productive than those who are required to focus on their weaknesses.
Strengths management has a lot of merit. For years, the old fashioned hierarchal style of management required managers to focus on weak points. Performance appraisals were structured towards weakness instead of strengths. Weak areas became more prominent than strong performance.
Under a strengths management approach, managers focus on identifying job candidates who have the strengths to succeed in a particular position. Team members are assigned positions and projects, developed and promoted based on their demonstrated strengths.
Playing to your team’s strengths makes a lot of sense. However, leaders are well advised not to overlook weaknesses. Consider the case of Tom, a recent coaching client of mine.
Tom enjoyed a highly successful career in project management. His projects were always successful – on time and under budget. He was a whiz at ensuring that every detail was handled properly. He was driven to succeed and was one of the hardest working people in the company. Tom was a dynamic communicator, whose knowledge, expertise and track record were respected throughout the organization.
As a result of his successful track record, Tom was eventually promoted to senior vice president of operations. That’s when things started to fall apart. His new role called for Tom to oversee all the project teams, provide vision, accountability and consulting support when needed. However, Tom enjoyed the hands-on nature of running projects. He insisted on being involved in everyday details that he loved to handle when he was a project manager. He was micromanaging his team and they hated him for it. Morale plummeted.
Tom was always a micromanager. Company hierarchy was blinded to his shortcomings because of the bottom line results he delivered. It was only after he was promoted that his failings became obvious—and then only after a lot of damage was done. If Tom’s weaknesses had been identified, he could have received training and coaching much earlier in his career to help him overcome those shortcomings. The company also would have been well advised to provide training for Tom to help his transition into the new position.
It is smart business to match the strengths of your team with the jobs that need to be done. However, even the star performers have shortcomings that could derail their career and severely damage the organization. As a leader you should help team members more fully develop their strengths and equip them to overcome weaknesses.