The first step to become a leader is to know you and your people’s strengths

This post introduces the first step making the difference between manager and leader. Leaders understand the strengths of their people and coach them to find their best place, where they contribute the most. They are not focusing on people’s weaknesses but using their strengths. Key thoughts in this post are taken from Peter Drucker.

Average manager plays checkers. Such manager thinks people are uniform and replaceable blocks moving the same speed and directions. Of course, manager still needs to plan and manage the moves towards the goal, but it is quite easy and predictable.

On the other hand, leaders play chess. They know each chess piece has different traits and qualities and they move differently. Great leaders know how to combine all these different qualities and different moves together to achieve the goal. Peter Drucker talked about simple step to become a leader. What is that step? How to start playing chess instead of checkers?

Try to recognize different qualities of you and your people and support the development of these strengths, do not focus on weaknesses.

It does not mean to be unaware of your weaknesses or apology your bad behavior. The point is to concentrate on your strengths. Put yourself where your strengths can produce the best results. Change the position or even leave the company if this is not possible in your current team. Focusing on weaknesses is waste of time. You can only become average in your weak areas but with quite big energy expense. This energy should be rather spent on improving your strengths. This can help you and your people to achieve much bigger results and personal satisfaction.

Note: The story is taken from one great HBR post.

How to start?

There are three simple steps to start with:

  1. Try to identify people’s strengths. MBTI or Belbin roles can help you with this task.
  2. Ask yourself and your people: “How do I perform?” What environment and actions trigger my strengths?
  3. What is yours and your people learning mechanism? How do you and your people learn?

Based on these findings you can try to find the best position for you and coach your people to find it as well. Finding the best position for your people should be done with them, of course. It is very important that leader meets people frequently and coaches them(invisibly). Leader should ask questions like: “What kind of tasks do you enjoy the most? What do you love to do? What tasks you don’t like to do?” It helps people to think consciously about their tasks and sets the directions.

Average manager pushes or manipulates his people to change to fit existing uniform boxes and categories, often defined by HR department. But leaders respect personal qualities of each worker. They do not try to change people to fit those uniform boxes, but they rather try to find where these qualities and traits can be most valuable and useful. This is considered not only in team or company context, but in the context of the whole society. Even if it means different company or industry, leader still supports person to achieve that way.

One example of leadership versus traditional management thinking I remember was putting us as Agile and Lean coaches to one of our existing HR boxes. It was hard to explain HR what we do and quite complicated to find existing box that would fit the most.

Also have in mind, that different people are motivated by different factors. Try to uncover these changes during the regular discussions with people as well. Ask but also observe what the factors are in their context. Do not setup uniform goals for all people. Do not think money is the only motivation mechanism. Interesting work, challenging tasks, new stuff to learn, great team, cooperation with customers, solving tricky problems, working with new technologies, different tasks to work on, creative work… all these are the factors that motivates IT people more than money. Of course, this statement is valid only if certain level of salary is achieved and you do not have existence problems (existence problems come from instinct category and thus are stronger than our internal motivation for work).

Next steps

Do you like this approach? If yes, then start with yourself. Identify your strengths, triggers and learning mechanism. Then continue with your team.

Do you do it already? Great! Could you share whether HR and other supporting functions do support this idea? Please, share not only your experience but also proposals how to change it ;)

Máte k tomu co říct?

0 komentáře: “The first step to become a leader is to know you and your people’s strengths”

  1. Based on comments I got from my friends and colleagues I need to provide one clarification. My experience said (sure, I’m still too young, only about 12 years in IT) that we need in 21st century totally different management approach then was working in 20th century.

    Management tasks defined by Frederick Taylor and Henri Ford for 20th century was about dismanteling process into small repeatable tasks that were assigned to „dumb“ workers. Those were motivated externally by sugar and whip (usually money). If you do what you don’t like and what you are not good at, you need some controller to push you. People following this type of management are for me managers.

    21st management defined by Drucker and many others is totally different. Nobody tells you what to do, how to do it, when to do it. If you do what you love and what are you good at, you don’t need anybody to push you. You don’t eat, you don’t sleep, you just love to do the stuff. But of course not from 9 to 17, but when you want to… Then you need only (informal and natural) leaders on different levels to guide you to the right direction (team/company vision) and support you to look for the projects you could be most valuable by using your strenghts. I call people following this approach leaders.

    So, please, when reading this article consider word manager as 20th century manager (defined by Taylor, Ford and others) and leader as 21st century manager (defined by Drucker and others). It was not mentioned assumption 😉

    People also ask: Has Drucker implemented succesfully any of his ideas? I need to answer that this is rather typology issue, not a failure of an idea. Everybody is different, people are not uniform. Drucker was visionary (I would say INTP or ENTP), not a finisher. Quite similar typology to mine 😉 People like Drucker need to have finishers in the team to make things done. This is not a failure of his ideas. These ideas work. Search for companies like FAVI, GORE & Associates, SOL, Harley Davidson, and many IT companies to see the implementation in practice.

    One example to understand it better is to consider great architects. Are they developing the great buildings they designed? Did Norman Foster built any of his great proposals? No, never! They are just supervising the process, but they are not doing ordinary building tasks. It is done by building company. And such company does not design great modern building on the other hand. It is the same with Drucker 😉

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