By Rob Zell:

Recently, Darrell Stiffler posted his blog on Vroom’s theory of motivation and it’s a solid account of how to keep people engaged in the work at hand. I would like to add that you should also strive to put people into positions in which they can do whatever it is they do best. In other words, help them take advantage of their strengths.

Managing to strengths seems pretty common sense. As managers of people we should strive to align the team to the work based on the strengths of each individual. When people work to their strengths they are energized and are more willing to give up some of that discretionary effort. When we don’t have the opportunity to work to our strengths it actually serves to drain our energy: we procrastinate, ignore the details, and generally dread the assignment. The reality is that we don’t always get to do what we’re best at. Sometimes we have to speak in public, or make cold calls, or file TPS reports. When we do, we should strive to find ways to incorporate our strengths into the process.

Unfortunately the work doesn’t always align perfectly to the strengths of the team. We don’t always get to show off what we’re best at doing. Regardless the work has to get done or, as one of my favorite management gurus likes to say, “You still have to get the wash out.”  To do that, you have the opportunity to shine as a manager. In my experience, the best managers do a couple of things in this situation.

  • They empower the team to solve problems. By turning tough problems over to the team and setting clear expectation for results, managers allow their teams to plan and organize the work in a manner that best fits their strengths.
  • They help the team overcome some of their own hang ups. Everyone has a bias that they bring into workplace and interpersonal interactions. The bias develops from their own experience, their perceptions from culture and media, and interactions with others. Managers need to shine a light on these issues and remove the biases that interfere with productive work.

When people work to their strengths they are most engaged and most successful. When your teams get to use their strengths they feel better about themselves and feel like they are acting to their full potential, i.e., self-actualization.  You probably recall that term, as defined by Abraham Maslow, which means that we are all driven to use our strengths to the fullest potential. Using our strengths makes us feel good; it makes us feel like better, stronger people.

A great example of someone driven to be “all he can be” is Clark Kent, a.k.a. Superman. In the book Superheroes and Philosophy: Truth, Justice and the Socratic Way, Mark Waid discusses that Clark Kent must use his powers to fight crime and protect Earth. He is driven by a need to live to his full potential, and what could be better than being a hero to so many?

How can you help your team to be supermen and superwomen, accomplishing great things on minimal resources, tight timelines and despite obstacles? Leave your comments below on how you’ve been successful at helping people work to their strengths to accomplish goals.

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