Friday, May 9, 2008

Become "Well-content" with Weakness - Maximize Your Strengths

The Bible has some valuable business content, particularly content about maximizing individual and team performance. One particularly useful insight comes the New Testament, from the Book called II Corinthians, Chapter 12 verse 10. Permit me a little leeway in how I interpret Paul's words and apply them to business.

Paul says, in essence, "I am well content with weakness, for when I am weak, I am strong."

Dumb idea? Sounds a little ridiculous, where business is concerned.

O, contraire.

Paul's admission is, in actuality, one of the most important yet neglected truths in our world. Paul has discovered something that most people refuse to acknowledge: People are, for the most part, weak. That is, most people are not qualified by strength, talent or unique ability to do a whole lot of things. I dare say, most things. Paul realized that, if he were accurate in self assessment, he had but a few areas of great strength, of unique talent and powerful ability. In everything else, he was somehow deficient. This is also true for you, and for your employees.

In our world of "universal education," where intelligence is measured purely by academics, we become convinced that "well roundedness" is value, and that the way to achieve the greatest of human potential involves becoming as proficient as possible at all things. And, in light of human pride, the acceptance of weakness without significant effort to eliminate it, is foolish.

The truth rests in an entirely different model.

Marcus Buckingham's work, Now Discover Your Strengths, reveals something about a small group of people who achieve incredible levels of success. Synthesizing millions of interviews with all kinds of individuals, Buckingham determined that the most significant and common feature of each of these "super successful" people was their ability to accept, and embrace their individual strengths and weaknesses, and to live and work without the need, ir interest, to do much to improve their areas of weakness, making every effort to function only in the limitations of their strengths.

I would say that these "super successful" people were "well contented in their weaknesses," knowing that when they are weak, (that is fully informed of where they were weak, and avoiding the pull to work to eliminate the weakness) they are strong.

Ignoring this creates reverse leverage in our efforts to be as productive as we can. Buckingham points out that an effort to improve an area of weakness requires more energy than the resultant gain. A whole lot of effort produces a small improvement. So, working on weakness is a bad investment. I call it "negative leverage."

On the other hand, with regard to a strength, it takes but a small amount of energy to achieve great improvements. This is "positive leverage."

Two Contrasting Perspectives on Growth

One school of thought holds that people can be taught to do most anything, and that the area of greatest potential growth is in an area of weakness.

Another school says that there are but a very few tings that any individual is talented has a strength to do well, and that the area of greatest potential growth is in the area of greatest strength.

Buckingham's research supports the latter position.

What does this mean to the potential productivity of our company and the people who we employ? How could this insight help us to deal with the growing number of distractions and activities which are beginning to paralyze many of our operations?

Simple. It offers a solution. It offers the potential of leverage for every employee in every area of our company. It offers the chance for people to "do less and accomplish more."

Taking a Different Approach

Instead of managing activity and time with the same, mechanical processes you have used for decades, consider another approach. Instead of the linear and sequential organization of tasks, which just grow in number by the day, consider an approach which is not so activity focused, as much as outcome focused. Consider that the activities with the greatest leverage potential shouldn't even be on the same list with those that, done by those without the strength to leverage them, are but negative leverage. (They take more energy to get done than the value they bring.)

Consider these possibilities:
  • Discover the strengths of your people. Everyone needs to know what they, and their co-workers do naturally, with the greatest ease and with the greatest result. Then, you need to help them, whatever they do, to work in accordance with those strengths.
  • Get to know which activities have the greatest impact to bring you the most significant return on the effort invested. Any low impact activity needs to be eliminated, of outsourced to a company where the activity can be leveraged for your organization.
  • Re-align your work so that you and your employees know how their contributions actually impact your profitability, and that of your customers. Then, by properly aligning your compensation and reward strategies, your employees will, naturally, do the things that bring the greatest reward for everyone.
  • Become flexible enough that you don't institutionalize practices and activities in a non-institutional, hyper-dynamic marketplace in which you work. Everything, especially your customer, is in constant change. Adaptability to the world outside is very difficult with institutionalized internal practices.

You don't have to wait until you're overrun and your people are over-worked with low value, low-impact activities before you make any changes. Learn to embrace your strengths, and your weaknesses, letting others do the same.

If your employees could work half as hard, with double the results, you'd reduce the stress of your workplace, reduce your turnover, reduce your management involvement, increase your innovation, and gain the profits that would result.

Today might be a great time to start.

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