Are You Playing to Your Strengths?

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Why do we spend so much time focusing on the things we don’t do well? Honestly, we beat ourselves up all the time. It seems that no matter how many things we’re good at, we choose to dwell on the weaknesses:

Alan (despondently): I just can’t hang pictures. Look at these. They’re all crooked. I’m going to kill myself.

Kari: Are you crazy? You’ve won a Nobel Peace Prize, cured swine flu, and you’re currently starring in the number one movie in the world!

Alan (still despondent): Yeah…but look at the pictures. I’m such a loser.

Not only do we do this individually, but we also do it in our businesses and corporations. In fact, it seems like most of corporate America is built around weaknesses. Look at how we handle the dreaded Performance Review. Rather than focusing on what our team members are best at—rather than focusing on their strengths—we spend the majority of the review going over the weaknesses (or, in a nod toward mollification, “Areas for Improvement”).  This is not only a misuse of time, but it’s counterproductive. Look at it this way:

Within the Beatles, George Harrison was the lead guitarist. That’s what he did best. The Beatles didn’t waste a lot of time working with George on his weak drumming skills. Why? Because Ringo was already handling that job brilliantly. Drumming was what he did best. Each of the four Beatles “played to their strengths,” every day.

When you put together a great team, and then let each team member focus on what they do best, great things can happen. Sadly, though, many organizations (possibly run by people like Alan) don’t seem to get this concept. If the Beatles were a modern company, it wouldn’t be too hard to imagine this performance review:

Reviewer: Ringo, looking over your work for the past year, I see your drumming skills are quite good. However, under “Areas for Improvement,” your lead guitar work just isn’t where we’d like it to be.

Ringo: Well, that’s because I’m a drummer, not a lead guitarist.

Reviewer: We think that’s a narrow way of looking at things. Here at Beatles, Inc., we feel all our employees should be well-rounded musicians. So for the next 90 days, I’d like you to spend less time drumming and instead really work on those lead guitar skills, okay?

Ringo: I’m not sure that makes sense.

Reviewer: Ringo, you just have to trust us on this. After all, we’re management.

So look at your own team. Spend a few minutes and take a little “strengths inventory.” Is Tom a great “detail person,” while Catherine is an outstanding long-range planner? Does Randy have a creative mind that comes up with one idea after another, while Jennifer is particularly skilled at implementation? No, Randy is an apathetic slacker and you should have fired him months ago. But you get the point. Stop focusing so much on your weaknesses, and the weaknesses of your team. Instead, find ways to let your team members “play to their strengths” every day.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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