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Letters to a Young Manager

Strengths, not Weaknesses, #69
LTYM > Managing People II

Dear Sophie,
Don't fall into the trap of holding all your team members up to the same yardstick. One of the beauties of a high-functioning team is a diversity of talents.

I once had an employee who was an excellent operations manager. He knew how to run a tight ship and a reliable operation. He had the respect of his team and pushed them to excellence. But his Achilles heel was writing. Asking him to write a report or proposal was like pulling teeth. I coached and pushed to no avail. The thing was that he knew the material, was opinionated about the options and could readily say why, with the commensurate pros and cons he had weighed. I could have marked him down on his reviews, but instead I reframed my approach. When I needed his input and recommendations, I'd set up a meeting with him and let him talk the problems through. He was a talker. His verbal strengths outweighed his written ones. So we shifted to oral reports.

Marcus Buckingham calls this individualization,playing to strengths rather than weaknesses [1]. Using the orchestra metaphor, he notes that all are not trombone players. Each plays a different instrument that is their strength. Your job as conductor is to play to their strengths.

[1] Marcus Buckingham, Now, Discover Your Strengths, New York, 2001, pp. 171-175. Also see "


Focus on strengths

Discussion Questions:

1) How many of your 1:1 meetings talk about the employee's strengths?
2) Are performance reviews mostly about strengths or weaknesses? Why?

For Further Reading:

See "Rewrite Performance Reviews," Letter #76

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