A good friend of mine works in athletics. We were talking recently and he was venting to me about one of his coworkers. He said, “She’s so detail-oriented and needs to have a plan with five steps for every little thing. It takes away from my creativity and spontaneity! I hate that she’s that way.” I said, “What?! You should love that she’s that way.” I told him to think of it in sports terms: You love playing offense and scoring goals, but you are only able to do that if someone is focusing on playing defense. You need to counterbalance each other.
The lesson there is that, so many times, we want to make everyone in our business or our company the same. We want everyone to have the same strengths and we want them to strengthen that weak point so they’re like our best performer in each category. I think there’s a few reasons we do that: One, sometimes it’s easier. It’s easier to focus on people’s weaknesses. I don’t know if it’s an innate skill; I think you have to consciously focus on being positive. Two, sometimes it can mean you’re not confident in yourself. What we actually need to do is let our team members be who they are. If you can appreciate your people for their actual strengths and use your team in that way, you’ll get a lot further.
I’ll give you an example: I don’t believe there’s a good reason to be late for anything. I don’t believe it exists. We have one guy who's been here for 15 years and he’s frequently late. It used to drive me insane. And I know, it sounds bad: Why would I put up with that? But what I’ve realized is that he’s also the guy who’s always last to leave. If I ask someone to stay and get it done, he’s the first to volunteer. I respect people who want to get out of here when the day’s done. I’m fine if you leave one minute after the clock hits 5; that’s the deal we made. But, it’s super valuable to me that he’s willing to stay late. He’s worked on Saturday or Sundays so many times. It’s rare that anyone else will commit to working weekends even once. As long as he doesn’t infiltrate the team and cause others to also arrive late, I’ve been able to live with it because it ends up balancing out. His work ethic far outweighs that small quirk.
Another example is two of our techs in similar roles. One is incredibly organized—he knows where all his tools are at any given moment. But, he doesn’t always push himself. The second tech, on the other hand, is less organized; he spends more time looking for the right tool. But, he works his butt off.
The result? One tech might not get the most done, but when he is working, none of it is wasted time. And, while not everything the other tech does might be considered “valuable,” he never spends any time goofing around or on his phone. They balance each other out.
Here’s where you need to change your mindset: It might sound like I have issues with both techs. And that’s natural, because most people want everyone to work hard all day. Plus, it’s easy to see when someone next to them isn’t working as hard as they are. But that’s not a very good indicator because, what are they actually working on? If it isn’t productive, that doesn’t benefit the company. And I can say, with confidence, that these two techs are productive, because when I evaluate their performance over a set time period, they are very consistent with overall production.
There’s not a championship-winning team that doesn’t consist of players with different strengths and weaknesses. The New England Patriots don’t sit there and complain that their defensive lineman can’t throw the ball with the accuracy of Tom Brady, do they? And they don’t expect the field goal kicker to be involved in as many plays as the middle linebacker is, either. A high-performance team is made up of players with different strengths and weaknesses. What’s important is that, when they perform together, the outcome is a win for the team, not the individual.
When we know the role of each player on the team, we can start to appreciate what they are good at, and learn to live with their shortcomings. You need to look at the employee, objectively, and have a true understanding of all their strengths and all of their weaknesses, and how that balances out. I don’t think this is an easy concept to grasp. My 25-year-old self would laugh at this column and call myself weak. But, today I know that I can manage a team far better than my 25-year-old self, and I can sleep a lot better at night as well.