Effective Managers Focus on Employees' Strengths, Not Weaknesses
The best managers share one talent—the ability to find, and then capitalize on, their employees' unique traits, says management consultant Marcus Buckingham. "The guiding principle is, 'How can I take this person's talent and turn it into performance?' That's the only way success is possible," he says.
It's easy to tell a good manager from a bad manager, Buckingham told participants of a leadership conference earlier this month hosted by the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. Bad managers play checkers. Good managers play chess. The good manager knows that not all employees work the same way. They know if they are to achieve success, they must put their employees in a position where they will be able to use their strengths. A great manager is brilliant at spotting the unique differences that separate each person and then capitalizing on them.
It may sound elementary, but a quick glance around the business world indicates that many companies have yet to grasp this simple concept of putting people's strengths to use, Buckingham said. That's because the business world—and the world at large—are obsessed with weaknesses and finding ways to fix them. Buckingham cited a recent poll that asked workers whether they felt they could achieve more success through improving on their weaknesses or building on their strengths. Fifty-nine percent picked the former.
Great managers see the folly in this, says Buckingham. Great managers know they'll get the most return on investment by working on strengths. He has seen this management style work. He just doesn't see it often enough, and he believes too many workers spend too much of their time doing things they don't like to do or simply aren't good at doing.
So how can managers tap into the talent they have in their organizations? Buckingham says a good first step is to determine what employees are good at. The tasks they learn quickly, the talents they naturally exhibit, and the jobs they feel good about doing are hints about their inherent strengths. Once those strengths are uncovered, a good manager will put them to use.
Managing employees successfully is a rare talent. Even rarer, Buckingham said, is the ability to lead. And all good managers are not necessarily good leaders.
"I do think there is a rather keen and distinct difference between managing and leading," Buckingham said. The chief responsibility of a leader, for example, "is to rally people for a better future. If you are a leader, you better be unflinchingly, unfailingly optimistic. No matter how bleak his or her mood, nothing can undermine a leader's belief that things can get better, and must get better. I believe you either bring this to the table or you don't."
Along with that optimism, great leaders can also bring big egos--and that's not a bad thing. While some have blamed the business world's recent string of scandals on bloated executive egos, Buckingham disagrees. It's not ego that ruins leaders, but rather a lack of ethics. And considering the responsibility facing business leaders to build a future for their companies, a big ego might be needed.
"If you are going to lead, you better have a deep-seated belief that you should be at the helm, dragging everyone into that better future," he said. "Virtually nothing about a leader is humble. I'm not saying they're arrogant, but their claims are big." Buckingham said successful leaders must find a "universal truth" to rally their followers. These universal truths stem from the basic human needs, fears and desires that unite all people, across all cultures. They also happen to be great tools for leadership.
Take, for example, one of the great human fears—fear of the future. "We all share a fear of the unknown," Buckingham said. "The problem for the modern-day leader, of course, is that they traffic in the future." Buckingham says some the best leaders can overcome this fear—and build confidence among their followers—with a weapon of their own: clarity.
By presenting a clear message, and backing up their message with actions that support it, top managers have rallied employees to their cause and enjoyed bottom-line success as a result, Buckingham noted. "The best way to turn anxiety into confidence is this: Be clear. Clarity is the antidote to anxiety. If you do nothing else as a leader, be clear." Former New York City Mayor Giuliani provided a good example of effective leadership through clarity, Buckingham said. When Giuliani took office in 1993, he could have turned his attentions just about anywhere; America's largest city certainly had its share of problems.
But Giuliani set one specific, clear, and focused goal for his administration. He would reduce crime and improve quality of life for residents. Then he laid out three simple ways he was going to start making that happen: He announced he would get rid of the window washers who pestered New York City drivers, clean subways of graffiti and then keep the vandals away, and make all cab drivers wear collared shirts. The issues were, on their surface, minor. But they were relevant to his citizens. And by setting three immediate goals—and then achieving them—Giuliani was able to build trust among residents and respect among his workers. That trust carried over as he tackled larger challenges, and within a few years of his arrival, the FBI named New York the safest big city in America.
"When you want to lead, start with the future." Buckingham said. "Get specific. And get vivid."
This article was prepared by the staff at the Point for Credit Union Research and Advice and is published online at http://thepoint.cuna.org/. Reprinted with permission.
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