Last Friday at work was turning out to be a great day. I had a series of meetings throughout the morning where we were pursuing new business, the creativity and positive energy were flowing and people were really collaborating. I was having a blast, walking around the office whistling and joking, looking forward to meeting up with friends. I felt great! One last meeting and then off to the weekend … and then the last meeting happened.
I was cranky, deflated, de-energized, argumentative, and all round no fun to be around. What was up with that? How could I be in the midst of such a great day and all of a sudden be feeling and acting so differently? What was up?
As always if we can take some time to relax, return to a place of self awareness and inspect things honestly, we can usually figure out why things went from perfect to painful very quickly. In this case, the answer was in the nature of the meetings.
The morning meetings were all about new sales opportunities. They were about possibility. They were about building new solutions. I love building new things! I also love facilitating discussions, and in designing new solutions there is a lot of discussion to be facilitated. By the end of those meetings I was pumped. Then came the afternoon meeting. It was about a problem with a client. It was about fixing something. It wasn’t about facilitation in any way because the client wasn’t there. We couldn’t get to yes in this meeting. And I am not at all fond of fixing things. It drains me. So there I was resisting the process, trying not to do something I don’t like to do.
The point of this is understanding what things motivate us, interest us, give us energy. What things make us feel stronger after we’ve done them than we were before we started. It is also about understanding what things drain us, or make us feel weaker after we’ve done them.
Marcus Buckingham, a leader of the “strengths movement”, in his book Go! calls those things which energize us strengths and those things that drain us weaknesses. He writes that it is important for us to understand what each of these things are for us. We should then try to spend our time working to our strengths and minimize the time we spend with our weaknesses. This all makes sense, and it explains my behaviour last Friday as I found myself doing things that drain me. I didn’t want to be there and it showed.
This concept is further supported by Edward Deming’s studies of Japanese management styles in the 1960’s. At that time, Japanese culture was such that once a company hired someone, they had a job for life. Because of this, what we think of as traditional performance management in North America … a focus on “areas for improvement” … didn’t exist in Japan. Rather, because they knew each employee would be with them for a long time, managers focused on understanding what each person did well, and developed plans to ensure that assignments matched those strengths.
So is there room for this sort of philosophy in the Western world? What would our world be like if each person, every day of their life, was given an opportunity to do something they truly loved to do, that truly energized them? Would productivity rise, turnover decrease, job satisfaction skyrocket, etc? How about at a human level? Would world knowledge rise? Could Interpersonal harmony abound? Should we expect more collaboration?
For those of us who are formal leaders of people, do we spend enough time with our employees trying to understand what these energizing roles are, and then look to organize our teams based on this concept of strengths and weaknesses? Do we look at our own weaknesses and then identify members of the team who are strong in those areas then delegate our responsibilities to them both to improve overall team performance and to provide development to others?