A core part of your job as a manager is to develop your team. This means that you help them to:
- Learn as much as possible.
- Get exposure to new situations and experiences.
- Pursue job promotions to take on more responsibility and accountability.
The thing is, many managers approach doing these things from the wrong direction. They try to do them by focusing on fixing people’s weaknesses.
It’s only natural, right? You identify what gaps are in someone’s skills and experience, then you try to plug those gaps, making them into a more rounded team member.
This isn’t the most effective way to develop your team. Sure, understanding what our weaknesses are and working on them is important. But it’s not the place where you should focus and spend more of your time and energy.
The right place to start is with someone’s strengths. Identify them, then focus on developing them.
But, what does that actually mean?
Let’s break down what a strength is and look at some actionable ways to improve them.
The three components of a strength
A talent is a naturally recurring pattern of thoughts, feelings or behaviours that can be productively applied to a task, problem or job role.
Someone being inquisitive, competitive, or persistent are great examples of talents. They feel so natural to someone that they almost feel like common sense.
Talents are vital when it comes to forming strengths.
Knowledge is the facts and lessons that you’ve learned over time. Usually, gaining knowledge is done by things such as reading, taking courses, mentoring and experience. Or even reading newsletters…
There are two types of knowledge: factual and experiential.
Factual knowledge is content, such as learning a language. It won’t guarantee excellence, but excellence is impossible without it. For example, you can’t be a Chess Grandmaster if you don’t know which way a Knight moves.
Experiential knowledge can be acquired only through experiences. It teaches you what works and what doesn’t. It can’t be taught. It’s stuff you ‘pick up along the way’, rather than sitting down and learning from a book which would be considered factual knowledge. You have to learn by doing.
A great example is in consulting and knowing when a client is unhappy without them saying it to you out loud.
Working on improving both types of knowledge is essential in developing strengths.
Skills are the steps of an activity and they determine if you can do something. Skills are generally acquired through deliberate practice. Acquiring skills enables you to avoid trial and error.
You can follow the steps of an activity, but it never means that you’ll actually ever be good at something. A great example of this is that you can drive a car by following a series of steps, but doing this doesn’t mean that you’ll be a good driver!
It’s important to note that skills can’t make up for a lack of talent. You can repeat the steps of an activity as much as you want, but if you don’t have talent, then those steps will never feel natural and you’ll never actually want to repeat them over and over again.
Before we learn how to turn the above into actions, a quick summary of the key points across these three areas:
- Talents are vital when it comes to forming strengths.
- You need both factual knowledge and experiential knowledge to succeed.
- Skills can’t make up for a lack of talent.
- Skills are most valuable when they are combined with talent.
10 tactics you can use this week to help develop your team’s strengths
Here are four ways that you can find the dominant talents of your team:
- Look for their spontaneous reactions: What are their spontaneous, top-of-mind reactions to the situations they encounter, especially tough ones?
- Identify their yearnings: What do they naturally gravitate towards in their work? What do they prioritise? What isn’t a problem to get them to do?
- Find areas of rapid learning: The speed at which they learn a new skill provides a telltale clue to the talent’s presence and power. What has surprised you when teaching them?
- Look at what gives them satisfaction: What makes them feel good about their work and makes them happy in their role?
Now, you can refine and add to these talents by developing their knowledge. Here are a few ways that you can do that.
- Find training courses, videos and books: Give them pointers and inspiration on how to learn more and ask other team members for input on what has worked for them.
- Get them to teach others: Nothing makes you refine your thinking like having to teach someone else. Get them to teach new starters or other team members something.
- Expose them to new situations: Get them to be involved in things that are new or scary. New projects, new meetings and challenging situations. Make it clear that you’re there to support them and will help them.
Next, look for ways to develop their skills and learn the steps needed to excel in their roles.
- Don’t be afraid (and don’t let them be afraid) of processes: Processes help you avoid mistakes and to get a shortcut to a good outcome.
- Be prepared for them to get things wrong: Skills are refined by doing things over and over again, they’re going to get it wrong sometimes. Prepare them for this.
- Always go one better: Push them to make each and every piece of work a little bit better than the last one. Find one thing they can improve on and focus on that.
I’ll be honest, doing all of these in one week isn’t likely. So just pick a couple or one area of strengths and focus on that first. See what you can observe first and then use that to build upon.
Now, I’m not saying to forget completely about weaknesses! So be sure to read this article which explains how to manage weaknesses, which is a great compliment to what you’ve just learned.