Staying Strong

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?

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Ian Munro @

Ian Munro is a leadership and vitality coach with a primary passion for working with senior professionals who wish to improve their connection to and vitality in their career, or who wish to make a transition to a meaningful and rewarding retirement. His methods are focused on helping clients understand why they present as they do in day-to-day life, discover their authentic self and give themselves permission to build a meaningful and rewarding future, both professional and personal. Ian’s love for this work has developed naturally as he built his career as an executive and leader in the IT services industry, serving in many roles and facets of this industry over 25 years. As he reached the pinnacle of his career he began to search more deeply for meaning and alternate rewards from his own career and to begin to plan for his own “first retirement”.

8 thoughts on “Staying Strong

  1. I think you have summarized this well, stating that ‘making’ things giving you energy, whereas ‘fixing’ things is draining. While I agree that it would be fantastic that everyone could have days that were filled with those things that only energize them, the hard slog of the mundane and the ‘fixing’ still has to be done. I like your point (of finding employees who do enjoy these activities and delegate them) but in reality there are mundane / draining tasks in every role. I suppose it is when the draining activities outnumbers the energizing activities that employee (or leaders!) spirits tend to drop off, and this is what we need to watch.

    1. And in the watching, both ourselves and others, we must also consider whether the role is the right one. Helping others to move on to a better fit is sometimes the greatest gift we can give them.

      1. Thanks for the thought Cindy. I totally agree. the interesting thing about this ‘fit’ discussion is the meaning of fit. How important is it for us to look past the task that the person does fit to the underlying essential skills that a person has? A person who does financial modelling certainly understands accounting and finance principles, but it may be that the essential skill at use … building things … is what is truly giving them the energy (or lack thereof) in the role. A very creative person may not excel as a chef, but would as a marketing person.

    2. Great thoughts here Elizabeth. I do agree that it is utopian to expect that any role can be totally cleansed of things that drain us. So I agree with your thought about the balance of the role. If we can tip that balance well in favour of energizing tasks it will feel like a good job to someone. One question for me is whether the minority of de-energizing tasks would now stand out so starkly from the rest of the work that they would be come star candidates for procrastination!

  2. Fabulous post Ian. I’m wondering — if also in the ‘draining activities’ there isn’t an opportunity to reframe ‘fixing things’? To look at the situation through different glasses that see the possibility in creatiing value out of the broken.

    For me, something I know to be true in my relationships especially, is that when I choose to ‘stand in the broken’ and look for value, the relationship is enriched. So often, our North American tendency for the ‘quick fix’, the easy out, has us constantly letting go of what we perceive to be broken. We throw out the baby with the bath water to get to the new and ‘better’ when in reality, it is when we stay in the water that we have the possibility to find the treasure in what is not apparent if we just throw it out.

    When I was managing a team, I focused on inspiring them to create their best. My job was to hold a space where they could shine. What I found happened was my team tackled the mundane, and the challenging with the perspective of always bringing their best — shining was the objective.

    You’re right though, there are certain tasks each individual wasn’t good at — sometimes, that was because they didn’t have the training, sometimes, their inherent talents weren’t matched — and it was always challenging to find ways to get the job done in those instances.

    Love this post!

    1. I think you are quite right that we can reframe any problem statement to look for possibilities. I probably wasn’t precise enough with my description of my weakness. Fixing things is a simplistic view of it. When blessed with ample time to engage in examining possibilities, “fixing moments” truly do become opportunities. When time pressures add to this and make it more of a maintenance moment, I don’t find my energy is there for it.

      It is that energy measurement that I think is important here. When we engage in a certain type of activity, are we adding to or subtracting from our total essential energy?

      As leaders, we can create that space for our people to shine, and they will come to that space if they know that they can use their essential gifts most of the time!

      Thanks for the great contribution here Louise … it is nice when we get a dialog going!!

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