In the world of business, many of the successful people are really good at making things happen. They tell others how they “get stuff done”. We read about Sir Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page – mostly handy information to help others in their own businesses. Excellent advice is readily taken when it’s given by some of the best business people of our modern times. Interestingly enough though, our conversations with those top people often steer away from discussing what direct interactions they actually do inside their businesses. In this paper we will discuss how to discover personal strengths, much like these inspirational business people have done, focus on them, then use them to build a business whilst still working with fully functional staff in their own specialist areas.
Where is the best place to work if a person is a Business Leader? That depends. Sir Richard Branson said “I love learning…it starts with inquisitiveness”, he waits until others are in a market, evaluates their current situation and then does it better1 (deploying a team). Jeff Bazos knew he was clever and saw that as a gift, however his real success came from making choices, which was a far harder task (and more rewarding) than riding off his gifts2. What these successful people are referring to when they talk about strengths has nothing to do with their natural talents, skills or knowledge. Strengths are defined by specific activities that go beyond conventional labels of recruitment. Author Marcus Buckingham summed it up best by saying “strengths are those activities that make you feel strong”3. Strong in continually learning. Strong in making good choices.
Don’t be the Sheriff of London.
From Amazon to Apple, the principles of being at the very top remain the same – one person can’t possibly keep their eye on absolutely everything one hundred percent of the time. As a business grows and more people are employed, a common pitfall that leaders find themselves in is trying to keep their eye on every area, each day, creating a life that is simultaneously exhausting and unsustainable.
A business which aims to increase its size, will, more often than not, require the help of other people. It’s a team effort. And here is where specialisation and working to your strengths comes into the picture. To illustrate this, think about the team inside an operating theatre. Being the Head Surgeon doesn’t require the knowledge of how to order operating apparatus, check that the theatre is booked or provide postoperative recovery care. The sole purpose of that Head Surgeon role is to ensure the surgical procedure is performed at the highest standard. The surgeon relies on the team around them to support that process fully and be the best in their area for a successful operation to happen.
Translate the example of the operating theatre into the realms of business and the role definitions of a team are identical. Each person in a business performs a function for the team. And to get the best output, the business seeks to employ the best talent, of the highest skilled people, to perform each functional area. As the head of the business, focus on tasks which feel positive and personally strong to the benefit of the whole business.
A Business Owner or Leader who has a “sales call midas touch” shouldn’t be focussing on back-end inventory or operations. That would be detrimental to the business. Instead, the better choice to make is for that particular Business Leader to focus on building the most profitable salespeople in the market.
Can you always hire someone else?
The short of it is – no, you can’t easily replace quality staff. The long of it is – finding the best people, who are highly knowledgeable and love what they do everyday is difficult. When looking to put together the best team, the Business Leader may like to read the below list and tick which ones currently apply to them5:
- I am a key contributor to the success and accomplishments of the teams that I work on.
- You will rarely find people who can perform at my level.
- When I have a new idea, I press forward and don’t ask for feedback from others about the best way to proceed.
- I am not really concerned with how other people view me or how they feel about me.
- Some people think I’m arrogant at times, but I’m just telling it like it is.
- I really believe in my hunches, even when the facts don’t bear me out.
- It’s not unusual for people to tell me that they don’t feel like I’m listening.
- When it comes to admitting fault, I may accept some blame, but I focus on the other person’s failings.
- When I have a conflict with someone, I rarely stop to objectively reflect or to ask someone else exactly how I contributed to the conflict.
- I can sometimes sound condescending when expressing my opinions.
If the ticks (or Yes responses) have added up to five or more, that means the Business Leader is more than likely to display those behaviours and may be holding themselves and their business back from growing. However, this checklist is a start point and we all have the ability to evolve, learn and develop. Releasing the notion that one person can always do it better (releasing the “I know how to”) will start the process of creating a great team who can come up with their own ideas, and in return, support a leader who provides a environment for them.
We all know that staff are free agents – they can come and go from businesses. They have the option to leave and find a higher rates of pay or a more challenging role elsewhere. So why stay with a business which pays less? Smart Business Leaders know that staff come with different skill sets and knowledge bases but more importantly, they are well aware that the number one reason why staff leave is not because of the rate of pay, it’s because down to their experience of their work relationships4. Cutting edge leaders see their relationship with their staff as a “strategic alliance rather than a traditional employment contract”6.
Creating an environment of encouragement7, learning how to provide different levels of support, delegation and even coaching at critical times will forge teams together for the long run8.
Shared Knowledge is Power
Henry Ford was a self-educated man and believe it or not was also one of the most highly revered people for his level of education in business, but not in the technical knowledge of manufacturing, but in the ability to bring people to him who can answer any question he may have in the business. His philosophy was not in the learning of specific technical information, but in acquiring other people who knew. He said “tell me why I should clutter up my mind….when I have people around me who can supply any knowledge I require?” – his understanding of how to organise and use knowledge after [he] acquires it was extraordinary9. He didn’t tell the factory line worker how to check or assemble, nor did he show the engineer how to design a chassis. He ensured that he had employed the best people he could to perform in those areas he needed in his business.
General Managers, CEO’s, Board of Directors and Business Owners all have a unique opportunity to surround themselves with the best quality people in business, share each other’s expertise and build a tangible future. It’s those leaders who adopt Henry Ford’s thinking that end up making it to the next level.
Find and utilise personal strengths – be the Head Surgeon of your business – and at the same time feel confident that when there is a call for a nurse, anesthetist or surgical technician, as a Leader, you already have the best team who are ready to support you.
3 Buckingham M. (2007) Go Put Your Strengths To Work (6 Powerful Steps To Achieve Outstanding Performance). Free Press. New York, America. (pp 76 – 85)
5 Flippen F. (2007) The Flip Side: Break Free From The Behaviours That Hold You BackSpringboard Press. New York, America (pp 56 – 57)
6 Goldsmith M. (2007) What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Hyperion. New York, America. (p 216)
7 Blanchard, K & Johnson S. (2015) The New One Minute Manager. William Morrow. Broadway, New York. America (p 33)
8 Blanchard, K & Johnson S. (2006) Self Leadership and The One Minute Manager. Harper Collins. New York, America (p 33)
9 Hill, N. (2003) Think And Grow Rich. Random House. London. United Kingdom. (pp 80 – 81)
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