#545  Innovative Leader Volume 11, Number 1          January 2002

Talk To Strengths

by Danny Cox

Mr. Cox, a professional speaker in Tustin, California (phone 800-366-3101; email Mach175@aol.com).  He is author of Leadership When The Heat's On (McGraw-Hill, New York, 1992).  


The team-building process leaves many managers sweating bullets. Why bosses are so intimidated by their employees remains one the great mysteries of life. Usually, the more intimidating a manager tries to be, the more he or she is really compensating for his or her own sense of inadequacy. Passive managers are likely to be accused by their staffers of being insensitive to individuals within the organization. Either way, it's the rare manager indeed who has enough self-esteem to deal with the strengths and weaknesses of his or her people.

To make the transformation from mousy manager to effective leader, managers must get outside of themselves and appreciate everyone in the organization for the role each person plays. The sooner managers learn the secrets of people building, the easier their job becomes--especially at performance evaluation time.

"My company wants me to discuss people's weaknesses with them!" cries the terrified manager. The manager has a right to be upset. There's no faster way to put somebody off than to criticize them, even under the guise of a "performance evaluation." Instead, leaders talk to their staffers' strengths. Good news makes both the giver and receiver feel better. Dry handshakes follow a strength discussion instead of sweaty palms.

Addressing people's strengths is not only good for making the manager feel more comfortable, it's also a tremendous opportunity to build morale and productivity within the organization. When a manager addresses someone's strengths, it builds the person up and empowers the individual to do more of what is best for the company. Positive people tend to draw others up with them.

When a manager points out an individual's weaknesses, the opposite happens. When strengths and weaknesses are mixed together in a performance evaluation, the negatives win out. That's human nature. Anyone who has worked in an office environment knows how devastating negative energy can be.

To start an epidemic of positive energy, all managers need to do is make a conscious effort to seek out strengths in their team members. Many managers balk at the thought of searching out the positive, but it's not that difficult once a manager makes a list or two. Start by observing people's working behavior in broad categories and then get more specific. Look for how active the person is, how attentive to detail? Is the person cheerful, friendly, creative, helpful to others, customer-oriented, civic minded, dedicated, enthusiastic, experienced, honest, humorous, mature, organized, patient, positive, punctual, reliable, sensitive, self-starting, stable, thoughtful, tolerant, trustworthy, versatile? These are only a few positive characteristics managers can observe and then reflect back to the individual.

If a manager seeks out and shares just one positive aspect in a staff member's performance per day, no matter how minuscule, the evaluation in that individual's enthusiasm will be astounding, and every day will be performance evaluation day.

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