Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Weekly Tip; Develop your strengths

Developing strengths isn't a new idea, if you look at Strengthsfinder 2.0 it details how you can find your strengths, and has some great examples of why developing your weaknesses isn't productive. Here is my spin on it, along with an idea on how you can introduce this into either your development plan, or that of your direct reports;

In summary, if you develop your strengths to a higher degree, then your weaknesses will naturally develop as a result. So yes, you do need to know your weaknesses, but developing your strengths is the key. Here is the way I think about it;

  • Don't get hung up on fixing your weaknesses
  • Understand what you need to be good at
  • What to do when your weakness affects your job
  • Beware of over-developed Strengths
  • Dealing with others forcing you to develop your weaknesses

Don't get hung up on fixing your weaknesses
Okay so you may be sitting there and thinking, "but I need to fix my weaknesses". To be clear, this isn't about lack of knowledge of something, if you have never driven a car then this isn't a weakness, it is just a tool you have not tried to learn how to use. This tip is about that conversation you have with your Manager around appraisal time, that repetitive development plan discussion where the Manager says;

"Bob, this year you did really well in planning, and delivering to that plan, but your stakeholder management needs improvement. This year, lets focus on Stakeholders and make some SMART objectives so we track it properly and maybe get you some training in stakeholder management."

After getting over the deja-vu Bob nods along with his manager and agrees that he will make some improvements, and perhaps resign himself to a life of mediocrity because of his poor stakeholder management skills. Can you relate to Bob's situation? Let me ask a question;

Does this process really develop you?

I would say no.

You can blame your Manager for not setting a good development plan, you can blame yourself for not sticking to it. But in the end you can spend your entire life trying to be good at something you are terrible at.

Understand what you need to be good at
Now pretend for a moment, I was Usain Bolt's coach days after he won gold at the 2012 Olympics. Imagine me sitting there and saying the following;

"Usain, you are an absolutely amazing sprinter - the best the world has ever seen. Now that's great n' all, but your marathon running is poor. This year, lets focus on that. Let's make some SMART objectives and get you a coach and sort out a plan..."

Seems a little silly? This is the same conversation you are probably having with your manager year after year. You are really good at one thing, but you spend your time trying to develop something you are bad at. It's madness.

What to do when your weakness affects your job
Hold on a second, what if that weakness is important to the job?

Well that's where developing your strengths comes in. First, you need to be clear, will developing that weakness make me better? Really? In the example with Usain it's easy. He would probably say, "No, sprinting is my thing, I have no interest in long distance running". This may be something to consider, if you are poor with numbers, maybe a career in finance isn't such a great idea. But I think it's safe to say, in almost any job, having poor stakeholder management skills is something that sounds reasonable to work on, or is it?

Yes and no. I would suggest in the first example, Bob is great at planning. Well how can we make that better - it's good, great even, but how can we make it first class? Does he need to do more, does he need to do less (remember an over developed strength can become a weakness!), is everyone on board with the plan... oh wait... here we are, if he were a truly great planner, he would have included people in the planning process, maybe developed a stakeholder management plan... all by working on the planning. The thing Bob is good at may develop, or at least mitigate his weakness with stakeholder management. As he plans and follows a plan of engaging with stakeholders (poor Bob, he's not one for words, but now everyone knows what's what and are happy with Bob's communication). Job done.

Beware of over-developed Strengths
My 69 year old Dad has a stronger grip than anyone I know. If you give him a screwdriver and a screw, through sheer brute force he will get a screw into pretty much anything. The issue is, it's difficult to get my Dad to stop. Quite often the materials get broken, split or damaged as a result of this over developed strength (don't let him near Ikea furniture!).

So is my Dad 'Good' at this? Well he is has a phenomenal grip, but not a great sense of knowing when he's used it enough. So for example, having a great strength in analysis can be an asset, but if you spend days doing unnecessary, detailed analysis that wasn't required - is it really a strength? It may be great, but who's going to read it? 

Dealing with others forcing you to develop your weaknesses
Okay, by now you are hopefully on board with the idea of developing strengths, but not everyone else will be, and you may be forced into a scenario of working on your weaknesses. I suggest that you agree to plans, training and coaching to develop your weaknesses but always think about it in context of your strengths. So you are great with people, but poor at analysis and you are told to improve your analysis. Who can you talk to? You are great with people, work on your network, find great analysts, ask them questions, maybe you can help each other? 

To sum up, develop your strengths, you will enjoy it a lot more than fixing your weaknesses.

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