Maximizing an individual's strengths gets results every time.
Ever hear of the adage that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link? Though I understand the phrase and it truly has merit, that assumes that every link is built the same way. Forged in the same manner, and you are in the business of making cookie-cutter team members. If you just want a chain with all the same links, then I don’t know what business you are in, because in all the businesses and teams I’ve coached, maximizing individual strengths gets results every time.
I’ve led and coached under the reality that people are different. They are all, inheritably and beautifully, built differently. They are forged under different pressures. Made from various materials, they are puzzle pieces that, when put together correctly, form a magnificent picture.
Being in the information technology business, I sometimes had to go toe-to-toe with other leaders who wanted to measure every IT engineer using the same exact measuring stick. I can’t tell you how many times I sat in meetings where someone’s strengths were being measured against another person’s weaknesses.
My teams always found success when we learned to accept everyone’s differences and maximize everyone’s different strengths. Imagine the NFL combine every year where every player was only measured by one thing: passing efficiency. Quarterbacks would shine, as they should. However, the defensive lineman would be off the charts bad. Why would you let them on the team if their passing efficiency is horrible? You see, football coaches understand that to make a team, you need skilled players in every role, and they are measured and compared in their specific roles. In business, I see leaders all the time not understanding what their teams need yet hiring or building people using the same mold or measuring using the exact same stick.
Let me share a simple example, yet one that created contention at the leadership level, when in my opinion, it should never have been a discussion. Two engineers, one exceptionally brilliant at solving technical problems, the other extremely gifted at putting technical jargon into easy-to-follow steps of instruction. I would often pair these two engineers together, one solving problems like crazy and sharing what they did with the other, who would take the time to document and publish it, enabling other engineers and customers to self-serve or to find solutions on their own without the help of the expert. However, when it came time to compare, or more specifically, give rewards, which engineer was more valuable? If we measured based on problems solved, one engineer would "win" out. However, we could measure by who published more articles and prevented customers from calling in; thus, the other engineer would easily "win" out. See, you can argue this point for hours, and we did, and sadly, most of the time, we ended up with cookie cutters. One engineer would be told they did great at finding solutions and be scolded for not publishing more; the other would be told they did great publishing and be scolded for not finding more solutions on their own. As a result, when this happened, both engineers would do less of what they excelled at if they wanted the "bigger" reward. When this happened by the leadership team, the teams would become less effective. Not to mention the morale of the team would drop.
As leaders, we must see all of the roles that must be filled and find ways to maximize individual strengths in order to achieve the desired results.