Weaknesses aren’t Kryptonite, they just aren’t strengths…

Not too long ago, I worked with a group of executives for a fast-growing client.

Two things struck me as interesting, and somewhat of a paradox: First, they were all reasonably successful in their jobs (and their jobs were substantially the same, just different geographic regions). Second, they were all incredibly different. Yes, they each had similar core characteristics, such as intelligence and work ethic. In other areas, such as sales, marketing, people management, organizational skills, strategy, planning, and so forth, they were all over the charts.

So what? Well, I’ll tell you “so what.” You hear a lot about understanding your “strengths and weaknesses,” then you’re supposed to work on your weaknesses, right?? Sort of like the big Superdude combating kryptonite, right??

Bunk.

Let’s look at it differently. Let’s assume that succeeding in a position can be done in any of several different ways, using a variety of skills. With that reasoning, you don’t have strengths and weaknesses; you have learned skills and skills you have yet to learn.

Wow!

So, then, we should then simply “learn more skills,” right??

No, no, no…

We should, instead, clearly identify our skills, since we know that we can succeed with them, and work on improving our strengths! That’s right, improve our strengths, since we already know that they work for us. Learning new skills is time consuming, and depending on application, may or may not work for us the way they work for others.

Now, this logic assumes current success, so don’t confuse this with those managers who are clearly unsuccessful, though I would argue this could help them with their improvement also. In other words, as Bum Phillips (retired Houston Oilers coach) would say, “Dance with who brung you.”

Use the skills you have — improve and hone them to a razor’s edge — and continue your increasing levels of success. Over time, identify some additional skills you would like to pick up, and develop a plan to learn them in a reasonable time and fashion.

But don’t break what works…

Be Brazen.

Needing Leaders… The “make” or “buy” decision…

So, do you grow your own leaders from within, or hire someone new with – presumably – the leadership skills you need are unable to find inside your organization?  What do you tell yourself to justify not developing those skills from within your organization?  How about these?  See if any sound familiar…

“I don’t have anyone ready to ‘step-up.’”

“Leadership development is expensive.”

“If I train them, they’ll just leave and join the competition.”

Please.  I’ve heard them all, and many more just like these.  Some are urban myths, some are akin to the business version of “old wives’ tales.”  All are dumb.  Worse, however, is that some are actually damaging to your organization.

For example:

I don’t have anyone ready to step up.  Really??  You have no one on your staff, or available to you, who with proper development, coaching, and mentoring could step into a more responsible role?

My first comment is “not likely.”  If you really believe that, though, here’s some free advice: Whack ’em all and start over.  Simple statistical odds are that some should be ready or capable of becoming ready; if not, our hiring process is so remiss that blowing it up and starting over may be the only option.

It costs too much.  Again with the “really??”  How much does it cost, in revenue, earnings, and your time, to re-tell, re-advise, re-answer, and re-work?  How about the conflicts that apparently only you can resolve? Aren’t you tired of having to make every decision yourself?

What sort of productivity gains are you missing by not having competent and skilled managers and supervisors at all levels of the leadership food chain?

If I train them, they’ll just leave.  So then, your choices seem to be either train someone who may eventually leave, or keeping that person without the necessary, relevant knowledge.  You’re not seriously weighing this, are you?

Why “grow our own” leaders?  In my mind, there are three simple reasons:

  1. It ensures continuity.  Someone who has seen, experienced and “lived” the functional day-to-day may better understand what issues and challenges are significant.  Yes, sometimes we need an outsider to provide some new-blood thinking, but not at the expense of continuity and corporate memory.
  2. It sends a positive message. Advancement opportunities are a big reason that good people stay – including you.  Promoting a deserving candidate trumps and external hire 24×7 in that regard.
  3. They already know, understand, and more importantly fit our culture. Let’s face it —  though valuable, skills are a dime a dozen on the open market.  They just aren’t that difficult to find (including mine and yours).  What’s difficult is finding those skills wrapped up in someone intelligent enough to learn our jobs, and who also fits our current culture.

Except in very unique circumstances, developing current staff to assume future leadership roles always, always, benefits the organization in big ways.  Many of you reading this have been promoted into your roles, so you clearly understand the value.  We can – we really can – teach and develop the skills necessary to “grow your own,” so keep that in mind before thinking there’s “greener grass” in a newly hired manager…

A physicist, a preacher and an Iman walk into this bar…

Though that has all the makings of a great joke (appropriate apologies to those easily offended), I just wanted to highlight the diverse uses of today’s topic.

The three characters mentioned above are the most frequent users–or at least, most frequently referenced–of the Principle of Before, also referred to as the Empirical Priority Principle. Seems physicists thrive on making complexity from the simple… but I digress. Defined, The Before Principle “…asserts that within the circle of the world, what comes before determines what comes after without exception.”

Lots of examples for this. Battles before victories. Sweat before gains. Planning before execution. Investment before returns. If you want to win the lottery, you buy a ticket first.

So, let me add Management Consultant to the list of characters above (luckily, consultants are not easily offended). And let me better, more simply define The Before Principle: “You’ve gotta do this first.” And this applies to Leadership in a big way. For example…

Feedback–you’ve got to give it first to others, before others may be willing to give it to you. And I don’t mean just criticism; positive feedback is information provided solely to help someone grow and improve. Are you doing that today? If not, don’t expect to receive valuable feedback for yourself.

Respect–You receive respect from others, above or below you in the organizational food chain, after you first give them that respect. Listen. Show you care about them. Be courteous. Include when appropriate–or even close to appropriate. Give credit where due, and recognition frequently. Show gratitude, always. Keep your promises. Be on time. Respect isn’t tolerance, nor does it mean you like someone. It’s a positive, ongoing behavior acknowledging someone’s abilities, accomplishments and worth. You don’t deserve respect because of your position, you are afforded the opportunity to show respect for others. Don’t screw that up.

Trust–The holy grail of leadership. We need lots of things to be good at leading; we need trust to lead at all. Frequently called “The currency of leadership,” never is the “Investment before returns” more true. You want folks to trust you? Trust them first. My close friend Richard Fagerlin (author of Trustology) likes to say that trust must be given, never earned. I believe that to be true, but I also believe that trust given freely is usually returned. No, I don’t live in a Pollyanna world, and yes, there are some people simply not trustworthy. For those few, we steal from Ronald Reagan: Trust, but verify. But we still must trust first.

Empower people to do their jobs. Understand that well-thought mistakes are learning events, not cause for a beating. Focus more on outcomes. Realize that more often than not, employees want to do a good job. Our job, then, is to let them. Get better at saying yes. Don’t expect someone to trust you if you haven’t shown them trust first. Ain’t gonna happen.

So, this Principle of Before may not have its roots in leadership vernacular, but it’s pretty darned pertinent for those wanting to lead. It’s actually the very basis of leadership, when you think about it:

Lead first, then others will follow.

Be Brazen.

How’d you do last year?

Did you get the things accomplished that you set out to do at the beginning of the year? Most of them? Some of them? Any of them??

If so, great. If not, why not? Now–right now–is the best time to answer the following questions:

  1. Regarding those things successful last year, what made them so? Was it because of me and my leadership, or in spite of? For those I lead, have I appropriately recognized their successes?
  2. If we failed to accomplish some of our plans, goals, or objectives… why? Was it because we failed to do something we could have done, or were there really—really–circumstances beyond our control (honesty is important on this one)? For those I lead who performed less than satisfactorily, am I addressing that performance appropriately?

While you’re asking questions, how have you performed as a leader? Have you asked anyone… like those you lead? If not, now’s the perfect time. And I don’t mean just “hey, Jane, how am I doing as a leader?” Strangely enough, that might not actually elicit a meaningful response.

Consider a 360 survey if you haven’t had one, or haven’t had one recently. I’ve had lots of clients asking for them of late, so something good must be in the water.

Alternatively, you can DIY with something simple, like Start, Stop, Continue.

Sit down, one on one, with those you lead directly. Tell them you want—need–their feedback to improve, and to make their jobs better (and likely easier). Tell them you’ll be asking three questions, and you would like at least one input or response for each question. Then ask…

What should I Start doing that I’m not doing now?

What should I Stop doing that doesn’t seem to help you or others?

What should I Continue doing that you feel is positive?

Ask the questions, then shut up while they answer. No defensive drilling down, no “but what about…?” comments, nothing but “thank you for that input.”

If you’d like a simple worksheet for this, you can download by clicking on the image to the left.

And don’t forget to follow up with them in a few months to see how you’re doing with their inputs.

Be Brazen.

Some Coaching Advice – Gratis

I coach several individuals; most at a fairly senior level, some in mid-management.

Some are remedial efforts; in other words, we’re trying to get an otherwise-valuable employee to step it up a bit in performance. These are challenging, but it’s positively great to watch the progress.

The rest are for those already operating near the top of their game. Those folks for whom we’re trying to give them that “extra” edge. That 1% improvement for which, in their hands, makes a significant difference in the success of the business.
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