Brian. Oh Brian, Joshua whispered to himself, thinking about the meeting that just happened. Brian, his direct report, was like a stream roller whenever he got involved with a project. People were afraid of him because of his approach to everything. No one wanted to discuss their ideas, for fear he would tear them apart. I need to fix this soon. Sometimes I hate being the manager!
Managing people is a tough job, but helping someone develop their skills gives such a great feeling of accomplishment that in the end, it’s worth it. The focus of a manager should be primarily his or her team. Just because someone can manage a project, doesn’t mean they have the particular skills it takes to manage people.
3 simple steps for developing the strengths of your team members
- Determine their strengths
- Figure out how to activate those strengths
- Understand their learning style
Reflecting that evening, Joshua decided he really needed to figure out how to best utilize Brian. Brian was a good team member overall, he just lacked tact and soft-skills. He came off as a jerk sometimes when all he was trying to do was make sure people were making sound decisions. That’s when the thought came to Joshua’s head—Bingo! Brian’s greatest strength was questioning conventional wisdom and approaching a problem by really drilling deep to figure out the source issue.
This is an example of determining your direct report’s strengths. When you figure this part out, you’ll not only gain an appreciate for this person, but you’ll also be able to better position them to contribute more effectively within the team. They’ll need this in order to grow themselves further in their career. Remember: your job as a manager is to build people, so knowing their strengths (and weaknesses) is a bare necessity.
Joshua—being the responsible manager that he was—knew that if he could just figure out how to channel Brian’s passion, it would help the team tremendously. Part of it was sitting with Brian and helping him develop better social skills, but another part was utilizing this strength when it was needed. Maybe I’m bringing him in too late, Joshua reflected. Joshua had never really thought to bring Brian into the new project at the early stage. Maybe that’s where I can utilize his strengths best, he realized. Brian’s approach to questioning could be useful at that point, rather than him being looped in later and derailing what was already in motion.
Activating strengths in people reminds me of the 90s cartoon, Captain Planet. Once all your team members are finally activated, you’ll start to really produce amazing working—making them truly high-performing. It’s not just positioning the person properly, it’s also understanding what motivates them to unleash their strengths. One real life example was with a star employee we decided to promote. His previous position was holding him back from really activating his strengths, and by getting the promotion, he finally had the mandate and responsibility that pushed him to excel.
Over the next few months, Joshua saw that the changes he made were really paying off. Brian’s involvement early on was helping the team to think deeply about the problems and solutions, and it ended up saving everyone a lot of time later on. He still had one issue, however. He had tried to coach Brian in how to better present his ideas, but it wasn’t really working. Brian just wasn’t learning well from him. It must be my approach, maybe I’m not the right person to be mentoring him on this. Joshua continued to ponder the issue and eventually came up with a few new ideas that might fit better with Brian’s learning style. He’d try them out next week, hoping for better results.
Everyone absorbs differently, and knowing the learning styles of each person who reports to you is really essential. Some people need mentorship from someone in another team. Other members may need direct guidance from you. You may have someone who learns best in an outside setting, such as a conference, seminar, or class. Yet another person may benefit from audio or video podcasts. The bottom line is, don’t assume everyone’s learning style is the same and if someone doesn’t learn well from you, don’t take offense.
Try these steps out with each person that reports to you and see how you can unlock their strengths. As a manager, you should be able to determine their strengths on your own, but you may need help from them to understand how to activate and build on them. It’s a good idea to open a dialogue with your direct reports to help you figure this out.
Lastly, whether you’re a manager or not, it’s worth doing this exercise for yourself and then speaking with your boss about your findings. He or she will appreciate your insights and it will make you look proactive and self-aware. Let me know how this works for you!
For more reading on this topic, check out the article entitled: What Great Managers Do, published by the Harvard Business Review. It takes a more detailed view into this topic but is definitely worth reading.
Leave a comment, share this post, and, always, let me know if you’d like more on this topic.