Breathing is erratic, palms slightly sweaty as you enter into the office ready for the interview. You walk in, wearing your most ill-fitting clothes, your scruffy old trainers and your hair makes certain lockdown cuts seem like they have been styled by Vidal Sassoon himself!
You sit down. You have prepped yourself – you know every single problem and weakness you have and lots of examples to share how sucky you are. There is not a question they can throw at you that you will not be able to give an example of where you have messed it up and caused loss, wasted time and led to problematic relationships. You have all of your failures listed and ready to launch at any situation you are given.
As the interview commences you but in, talk over and generally show the very worst of your ability to engage in emotional discord with another adult. This is going well; you can see they really do think you are a smuck! Now to launch into your deepest internal fears and let that inner critic have free reign to tell this prospective employer just how much of a loser you are…
You might be reading this and thinking that Haydn has finally lost his marbles – this is like no interview ever right? Not even the most excruciating “tell me your biggest weakness” question ever gets close to this.
No, most interviews have you going in with a whole long list of your accomplishments, scenario after scenario of where you have learned, used your unique gifts and talents to overcome challenges and added untold value to your previous employers. You want the other person to actually believe you are the best person for the job, and you hope that if you get it it’s because you are the best person for that job.
The paradox of corporate life…
This is a paradox that has confused me ever since I started my work career and still does to this day when I help leaders grow and become their brilliant best. We recruit for the best and yet, as soon as we have recruited the best we seem obsessed with focussing on all the things they can’t do in the mistaken belief that working on your weaknesses will somehow make you better. It won’t. it will help you become worse than when you started…
Let’s look at how we truly develop. We learn and grow by being tested and using our abilities and gifts to work our way through the struggles so that we discover a way to solve the issue and thus gain skill, knowledge or strength that we can use going forward.
Let me give you an example. Take two brilliant team members – one who has the mind of a mathematician. Cold hard logic is what her brain loves. Now let me give you a second team member who is an artist – his brain is full of creativity and always looks to find interesting ways of putting things together.
Give them both a complex problem – one that requires them to dig deep and face into something that neither has ever seen before. You could argue that this is developing a weakness – if it is something that they have never seen before then is clearly something that they are weak at.
The key is HOW they go about working through the challenge. Our logical minded team member will use her logic to access data and develop options that can be tested, observed and using analysis dismiss the least effective, and work through this analysis to find the best and then repeat until they come up with a solution that works.
Our artist on the other hand will use their creativity to look at things from different perspectives, imagining what might happen if you meld these elements together, and they will start creating and at each stage add more to the solution, being willing to make, and remake until they too create a solution that they are happy with.
The end solution might be exactly the same. Or it might be completely different. They might take the same time, or one might take longer than the other. One solution might meet your expectations better than the other. Doesn’t mean it is better or worse – it just more closely resembles your ideal of the solution.
Both people will have learnt and grown. They will have done so through the window of their strengths. They will have used their existing skills to discover and create new skills and in so doing enhanced their capability.
Empower people to solve challenges using their gifts and talents
This is how growth happens – giving people challenges and asking them to overcome them using their gifts and talents.
Let me give you another personal example. I am a runner. I am pretty good at most stamina-based exercise – I enjoy running and whilst I am not superfast I can keep going at a good speed for a long period of time. I am not however, particularly strong. I know that building my strength will enhance my running, yet I know that if you ask me to lift weights I am going to struggle. I don’t enjoy it; I don’t like the experience and it gives me no satisfaction even when I can lift a weight. However, I know I can do repetitions as I have decent stamina so some kind of circuit training that involves body resistance exercises I really enjoy. I used to love Pilates because it helped me to build my core and mobility but didn’t expose my weaknesses. The result was I did it every week and over time I became stronger and much more capable and it benefitted my running.
I remember reading David Coulthards book on leadership from his days in F1. I am huge fan of F1 and am lucky enough to work with one of the teams. I love the performance environment. In his book David said that when debriefing testing or practice he rarely wanted to hear what had gone well – he wanted to know Where there were gaps between his performance and what was possible. You might see this as completely contradicting everything I have written so far. It is not – whilst he wanted to know where the car was losing performance the focus on how to overcome the challenge always came from recognising the strengths – either of the car, of the team or of him as an individual. It was the combined talents of the team that would create a solution that would enable him to go faster. Let me make this super clear – David had his own driving style, If the team had of come up with a solution that would have required him to fundamentally change his approach to driving the result would have been a slowing of the car, not increasing the pace. Tis does not mean he wasn’t willing to adapt his approach based– but it was always through the lens of his talents and brilliance.
Take another elite sportsperson – Usain bolt. Do you think he ever worried about his 1-mile pace time or whether he could run a marathon or not? Both were his weaknesses. No, his sole focus was to do his job brilliantly – to be the fastest man in history over short distances. That was his strengths. Within this he did of course work on aspects of his performance – his reaction time out of the blocks was never quite as good as others. He worked hard to improve it. But he also worked just as hard on his pickup and his stride length and ability to maintain his peak pace longer than most. He knew that this was where he absolutely had the edge, and this would make a bigger difference to his overall performance than his reaction time. The result, every millisecond gained by speeding his reaction was amplified by the hours and hours invested in his stride length, cadence and power. He used his strengths to become unbeatable.
Focus on your strengths to become world class…
The secret to developing ourselves is to do it through the lens of our strengths. To set challenges for our people that enable them to develop their capability through using their strengths and helping them to work out their own way to overcome these challenges.
If we focus always on the things that we are not good at what we create is average – and frustration, dissatisfaction and low engagement. Unwillingness to really improve because we are focussing on all the things that drain us of energy and stopping us using the things that we enjoy.
Every person working today, form you’re a list superstar performer down to those who are languishing on a performance improvement plan – they all have amazing gifts and talents and areas of brilliance. Our role as leaders is to help them use these talents to contribute most effectively to the results of our team and our organisation.
Our job as leaders is to not to get them to focus on the things they suck at and try and be better at them – because al we will do is strangle the life out of them and hasten their demise!
Let’s take those workers who are currently on a PIP. How often do you talk to them about the things they are amazing at – how clear are you on what they are brilliant at? I understand that there are base levels of performance we need from our team members – the problem lies in wanting every person to achieve that performance in a set standard way. Our desire to control how rather than challenge them to achieve what results in a focus on what they are not able to do rather than what they might be able to achieve if they were encouraged to use their own brilliance.
Try it. Rather than have a PIP based around HOW they are failing to live up to your expectations of HOW they perform their role, why don’t you ask them what they enjoy most, what they are best at, what their unique skills are. In fact, why don’t you start the PIP with the attitude of a recruiter – wanting to discover their aptitude for the role rather than their ineptitude. Then set them the challenge – in the team we need to achieve X. Given the things you are great at what do you believe will be the best way to get X to happen. Set the challenge and empower them to use their gifts, talents and unique brilliance to meet the challenge and deliver.