Saturday, April 30, 2011

Play to Your Strengths

Although we often focus on fixing or improving our weaknesses, we would be better served by building upon our strengths.  We cannot excel at everything, but we can excel at something for which we are particularly well suited.  Excellence in any area is rare and valuable.  This applies to individuals, leaders and organizations.  

This lesson is easily described in the context of mountain bike racing.  In a race, you have a limited amount of energy that must be expended where it will count.  No rider is best at everything (uphill grinds, rolling flats, technical sections, flying downhill, etc.).  Some racers waste energy out of bravado or lack of discipline, while the winners conserve resources and use their energy where they can take advantage of their strengths.

In business, individuals perform at their highest levels within roles that play to their strengths.  The best leaders identify and fit people in positions where they can excel. The Gallup Organization has studied this on a large scale with over 80,000 manager interviews, and describes it in the book “First, Break All the Rules.”  In essence, the authors proclaim that great managers spend the most time with their highest performers and encourage and develop the strengths of those high performers.

In “Good to Great” Jim Collins defines a Hedgehog Concept as something at which a company can be best in the world.  The Hedgehog Concept is not a goal to be the best, a strategy to be the best, or a plan to be the best.  It is the understanding of what you can be the best at.  This distinction is absolutely crucial.  A great company has to know and build upon its strengths.

The same philosophy is espoused in “The Discipline of Market Leaders” where the authors make the case that market-leading companies develop value propositions that are compelling and unmatched.  These companies have a single-minded focus on refining a specific dimension of value to serve their customers.

In summary, the race analogy of conserving resources and leveraging strengths applies equally well to business.  A great leader builds an organization where individuals can achieve their highest potentials, and collectively the company can be the best in the world at serving its portion of the marketplace.

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