Great Leaders Use What They Have to Their Advantage

In a perfect world every one of our employees would be great employees. They’d be committed, motivated, super skilled, etc., blah, blah, blah. In the real world, they are not. Every person, even the best of employees, has their strengths and weaknesses that they bring to the job.

Poor managers gripe about the weaknesses; great managers figure out how to realistically utilize each person in a way that plays to their strengths and minimizes their weakness. Everyone wants to be successful and a few are fortunate enough to have a leader that enables them to be their best.

One leader I know was working as an electrician, doing contract work for the maintenance department of a small manufacturing plant. The maintenance manager had an employee – Brian – that appeared to be all weakness. He was kind of spacy, a bit of a burnout, and consistently did mediocre work. Brian was one of those employees who just barely good enough to keep on the team, but was an ongoing headache. The maintenance manager took the opportunity to get Brian out of his hair for a while by assigning him to help the contract electrician.

Most in the electrician’s position would have been very frustrated to be “gifted” a problem employee, but he wasn’t. He took the approach of “I have him, so how can I use him to my advantage?” He looked (hard) for the strengths and discovered that Brian used to do electrical work on airplanes was extremely detail oriented and very good at following directions. In fact, given very clear instructions he was able to do meticulous, high quality work. (You see the problem, right? He was extremely literal and did what he was told. His manager did a poor job of giving well thought out directions so he was unable to do a good job. Garbage in, garbage out.)

Once the maintenance manager saw the quality of work that this problem employee was capable of, given proper guidance, he suddenly needed the employee and couldn’t spare him any longer.

When was the last time you sat down with your employees and asked them what they thought their greatest skills were, which tasks they enjoy the most, what skills they would like to use more on the job, or what skills they would like to develop? Who was their best boss or mentor and what did that person do different from all their other bosses?

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