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You Can't Always Get What You Want...

People in the business world talk a lot about Strengths. Do a search on that topic and you’ll find all kinds of information on the web about uncovering your strengths, coaching to develop strengths, applying strengths in your work, etc. These articles all lead you to believe there is a perfect job out there for you—one that allows you to soar with the career eagles as you flex your wings and do all those terrific things you love to do.

However, the work world just isn’t like that. With any job there is a mix of what you love to do, what you like or don’t mind doing, and what you really wish you could pawn off on someone else.

When we have the opportunity to use our strengths at work, we feel fulfilled and love what we do. We’re inspired, engaged, and way more productive than when working in roles that don’t tap into what we do best. But does everything in work have to play to our strengths in order for us to be happy? And how do you manage the expectation that a job is only fulfilling if it caters to strengths?

If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” - Marc Anthony

Managers have a profound effect on engagement since they have the opportunity to position people in roles where they can do what they do best every day. However, managers everywhere struggle with allowing their team members to work to their strengths, but still get all the tasks accomplished. No matter how hard they try, they’re faced with having to ask team members to do tasks they don’t enjoy. That’s just the way it is.

That is, of course, an argument for diversity in hiring. Diversity in the workplace allows for strengths and weaknesses to be spread out. In a diverse team, you may find that one person’s weak area is another person’s strength. If that’s the case, there is always someone who can step up and deliver successful results. So, hiring practices should take into account strength gaps in the team and seek those in a candidate.

But what if the team is already in place and established? In that case there has to be a balance of passion and responsibility.

This can be a good thing. As said in the quote above, if our job allows us to do what we’re strong at, we’ll enjoy what we do, even when doing tasks we don’t particularly love. In other words, we can ride out those periods because most of the time we’re loving what we do. Working on our areas of not-strength (hey – just because it’s not a strength doesn’t mean we’re bad at it) affords us the opportunity to develop other areas we’ve targeted for improvement, and it’s possible those will tie in to our strengths in a different way.

Let me give you an example. I heard recently of a CFO who decided to pursue his CPHR designation. He was doing this because there were HR issues at his company, and he didn’t feel he knew enough about them to be able to help. It would have been easier to say HR was not a strength of his—and, as a CFO, no one expected him to be strong in HR—yet he chose to pursue areas of responsibility versus passion in order to make himself a better executive.

Everyone in any organization can work on their skills to bring them up to snuff. This is not about focusing on weaknesses. Rather, this is about understanding where development is needed to make those “responsibility” tasks more enjoyable and productive. Managers can help their reports greatly in this area:

1. Look for areas of Incompetence—those things the team member simply can’t do.

2. Consider areas of competence, but not strength—those things that are done fine, but not great

3. Identify areas of mastery—those things that are done with ease and skill

4. Acknowledge areas of superior talent—those that are strengths and inspire engagement and passion.

Incompetence—Managers, if you determine someone on your team cannot carry out a task, it’s best to assign that responsibility or task to someone else. This is especially true when the task is crucial. There are only so many times a ball can be dropped before a work unit is adversely affected (sometimes seriously).

Competence—Who on your team can take on the responsibilities and knock them out of the park, and who will skate by? Determine how to supplement the weaker team member’s abilities. It’s not fair to just remove work from their plate and give it to someone else who can get it done well. That may work as a short-term solution. However, over time, resentment will build up amongst those who are constantly called upon to take the tasks over. Instead, assess whether it’s better to reallocate work or to develop the skills and knowledge of the weaker team member.

Mastery—It’s likely there are members of the team who could do some of their job in their sleep. They just naturally enter a state of flow and appear to love what they do. Their customers love them too. Managers of these people are wise to move some of the tasks they aren’t so strong at off their plates, freeing them up to soar with what they do best. (However, this only works if there are others on the team who can pick up the slack and won’t hate the manager for making them do so.) If there’s no one to transfer the tasks to, then seek ways to minimize the less successful tasks and maximize the strong areas.

Superior Talent—These are the one-of-a-kind skills only that team member possesses. The key here is for a manager to allow that team member to shine as often as possible. Allow them to focus on these areas because they will maximize their value to the team when carrying them out.

How will you know?

The easiest and best way to get to know what inspires your team members is to simply talk to them. Ask them questions about their work. Observe their body language as they describe challenging projects or tasks they enjoy. You’ll get a sense of what fuels their passions and can then use that information to tailor their work (as much as you are able). Managers accomplish this best by having regular, consistent, and frequent one-on-one conversations.

I talk a lot about one-on-one conversations in my book, It’s Not Them, It’s You. I truly believe in the power of the conversation to create a relationship with team members. In so doing, you’ll understand their strengths and how to take advantage of them, their not-strengths and how to best work with them (train them to develop new skills or allocate the work to someone else), and how to engage them in their work.

The relationship, once developed, will also allow your team member to know how valuable all tasks are to the team and the importance of completing all tasks assigned—even those not liked.

To paraphrase the Rolling Stones song, you can’t always give your team members what they want, but if you try sometime you might find you get what you need. So, try the one on one conversation, build up those relationships, and consider how best to help your people work to their strengths while getting everything done.


Maybe one on one conversations aren't your strength? If you need help connecting with your team or building a one on one conversation habit, contact me. I can help. Here’s my email:


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