In leading your team, individuals' strengths and weaknesses will quickly become apparent. A good leader concentrates on individual strengths and utilizing them to the fullest extent possible. But great leaders also focus on the weaknesses and find ways to support those shortcomings toward even more success.
Walt Disney, the visionary who turned a single mouse into an entertainment mega-empire, boiled his success down to a simple premise: "Of all the things I have done, the most vital was coordinating the talents of those who work for me and pointing them at certain goals." Once upon a time, most leaders focused solely on utilizing the strengths of their team members for achieving directives.
But the best leaders today realize that in order for real achievements to become a reality they must focus not only on the preeminent attributes of employees, but also on their weaknesses, initiating efforts to both buoy and leverage those shortcomings to achieve greater success.
While there are not many Disney-type fairy tales in the real world, supporting weaknesses and leveraging strengths can take your team to levels of success you might not have previously imagined—perhaps the "happily-ever-after" of ultimately obtaining your vision. As leadership engineer John Maxwell asserts, "Work on the weakness that weakens you, and there is no telling how far you will go."
Baseball Hall of Fame player and manager Yogi Berra once said, "You can observe a lot just by watching." As your team takes on different projects and challenges, keep track of how individuals perform, react, overcome or fail with each step. Survey individuals' unique leadership styles, work ethics, skill sets and personalities. Some successes and failures may be a fluke, but if you pay careful attention, trends will likely emerge in relation to a person's strengths and weaknesses. Once you know the tools you have at your disposal, you will be able to start strategizing how to best utilize both the good and bad attributes.
It is easy to recognize an individual for something at which they excel—chances are they already know it is one of their strengths. The harder part is pointing out a weakness. However, it is likely that he or she already realizes some of their own inadequacies. Sugarcoating a weakness of a subordinate can often make the point missed, so instead, communicate honestly that you recognize a weakness.
Let them know that you want them to work on their weakness because you view them as a valuable asset, and that by so improving upon it, they will be even more of a commodity to your organization. Proactive discussions can also help preempt those shortcomings from deterring future potential successes.
"Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision... It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results," Andrew Carnegie once said. Partnering an individual who has a particular weakness with someone who exhibits strength in that same area creates ample opportunities for that person to sharpen a skill.
If a salesperson lacks cold-calling abilities, pairing them with one who excels at it will give the weaker individual a chance to observe, ask questions and receive feedback on how to improve. As 19th Century U.S. Congressman John C. Crosby once said, "Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction."
Seminars and continuing education programs offered by third parties create an effective learning space for individuals to learn how to overcome a certain weakness. Consider utilizing your own resources as well by having the employee who has the sharpest skill set in a particular area lead a company-wide workshop on how they developed and best employed that strength. Leave the most important challenges to your "big guns," but routinely give subordinates the opportunity to work through their weakness on varying tasks.
Dave Anderson, the founder of national chain restaurants Famous Dave's and Rainforest Café as well as the LifeSkills Center for Leadership, asserts, "Failure is the hallmark of success. It can be the starting point of a new venture such as when a baby learns to walk; it has to fall down a lot to learn the new skill."
By letting team members know they are being given the opportunity to fail for the sake of strengthening a weakness, not only will it give them confidence for developing a skill set or overcoming a shortcoming, but it will prepare them to use that very attribute for future successes.
Meetings are rarely looked upon favorably by employees and managers alike, as most consider them to be an unproductive and useless part of their week. But when managed well, a meeting can become one of the most reliable and efficient tools you have to lead your team to achieve its goals.
Some leaders within your organization will have great pattern recognition, wisdom, trend anticipation, personnel insight and confidence, while others do not. Those who display these attributes will have the kind of intuition on which you should rely.
Promotions typically go to those who have shown great skills and achievements in their previous roles. However, you must ask certain questions to ensure you are promoting a respected leader.