Play to Your Employee’s Strengths

How Having Vision and Flexibility Can Empower your Staff

During the hiring process, an organization does its due diligence to align a potential employee’s skills and strengths with the needs of the organization. How is it then that organizations consistently miss empowering staff to meet their fullest potentials?

I believe we approach many aspects of our lives in these manners. This issue is ringing true to me right now as I deal with some school issues with my children. Too often, we focus on what children can’t do rather than focusing on what they can. The result often tends to manifest as poor self-esteem and performance anxiety around the tasks they don’t do “well.” I believe many organizations and managers struggle with this same issue. In essence, this is seeing an employee for what they aren’t rather than for what they are.

Have Vision

As a manager, I have struggled on and off with this situation. Perhaps this is a classic situation of the glass being half empty vs. half full. As a result, I’m plagued with only seeing areas within my team that need improvement. In some cases, I struggle to align my employee’s strengths with those organizational needs.

I believe this is a result of my lack of vision in seeing what an employee really brings to the table. Perhaps I become too hyper focused on skill vs. ability. What I have found is most people are natural problem solvers, so if provided with a problem statement many employees can align their own skills with meeting that need. I’ve been better at letting go and providing the vision of what I need rather than telling someone what I need them to specifically do at that moment.

Be Flexible

Rigid things break. By maintaining a level of flexibility, many people would think you relinquish some elements of control. While this can sound scary, I have found it to provide me more influence. Envision holding a small hamster in the palm of your hand.  As the hamster moves around, you maintain control by moving your hand and arm with the hamster; not against it. Employees are no different. Too often as managers we want to dictate what an employee does. This can be detrimental to the manager/staff relationship but it is also will certainly stifle staff productivity. Who wants to feel the pressure of an overbearing manager?

Employee Empowerment

I like to pride myself in creating high functioning and self-directed teams. About a year ago, I went through a leadership training. The training was focused on mindfulness and something called 4 Quadrant Leadership.

4 Quadrant Leadership is a progressive model to empower employees. For example, at Q1 a manager would play in the areas of compliance and control. This is for employees who are lacking efficiency and motivation. As you progress an employee through the quadrants, you relinquish elements of direction for delegation. When an employee gets to Q4, the idea is they are working autonomously and efficiently. After all, in the end we all succeed when employees are empowered and able to solve organizational needs.

Garrett Dunwoody is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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Profile Photo Kaitlin Moller

What you said about schools focusing on what children can’t do rather than on what they can reminds me of my time in elementary school. I really struggled with math, but excelled at reading and english, so my “quiet reading time” was spent with a math tutor (in my classroom, so everybody knew I was struggling) and I felt very isolated and deprived from what I love. I understand it was to help me succeed in all areas, but I’m 23 years old now and still horrible at math. Employee empowerment is crucial and focusing on successes rather than failures will undoubtedly ensure the most positive outcome. Great post!

Profile Photo Garrett Dunwoody

I struggled with the opposite. As we get older and become more aware of our strengths and weaknesses it is also important to be able to share those things with your manager without being seen as weak. Thanks for your response.

Profile Photo Mary Parker

I loved one of my juniors who would consistently surprise me with solutions to long-standing problems. By asking, “How can we…?” he researched vendors and best practices to deliver an appropriate response or product. What is even more amazing is that he had been seen as a troubled employee and I received him as a “hand-me-down” on his way out of the organization. We still stay in touch and he is doing great things.

Profile Photo Garrett Dunwoody

I have found the idea of a “problem” employee is usually a matter of perspective. I haven’t often run into someone who just is so dysfunctional they are beyond repair. That said those people do exist. Way to go in bringing the best out of that person. Sounds like it may have turned their career around.