Part of the Blog Series: Leadership Principles for Young Professionals.
This leadership principle is one that many leaders struggle with and they struggle even more in trying to understand why. The ability to employ your people according to their capabilities relies on another principle I already wrote about (Know Your People and Look Out For Their Welfare Link to Post Here). You have to get to know your people in order to employ them according to their capabilities. It’s during that time of getting to know them when you also learn what they are good at, what drives them and also what they are less experienced at or struggle with. You witness your people in action. You see how they interact. You see who the best team players are, and who the individuals are. You gain appreciation for their different levels of skills and abilities. Now you are arming yourself with the knowledge to set them up for success, as well as your team’s success, and ultimately your organization’s success.
I recently witnessed this principle terribly violated. I witnessed organizational leaders of an IT firm set their people up for failure on multiple occasions. On one in particular, they recognized a project need for a major client. The client had extra money to burn at the end of the year, so they thought it was a good idea to send a proposal in, even though they didn’t have anyone in the firm with the experience in the systems their people would operate in. Other leaders in the organization advised against moving forward, but that advice was not heeded. The sentiment from the leaders who sent the proposal was that the team being sent in had enough technical knowledge and experience that they could figure it out on the fly. Beyond the lack of experience in the systems, this project was also set up poorly administratively, which due to schedule delays on the part of the client, left the firm’s team having to meet deadlines that ended up condensed. The reason why I add this is because the team was already on a steep learning curve, and that curve only got steeper due to the administrative and schedule issues. Needless to say, the project ended as a failure. After months of pulling long hours every day and working over the weekends, week in and week out, along with added obstacles from the client’s administrative mishaps, the project missed deadline after deadline, and the funding ran out. Moreover, the team left the project completely burned out with nothing to show for it, except a sense of failure. To be honest, I can’t even call this poor leadership, because this is a complete absence of leadership.
When you get to know your people, you know how to put them in positions for success. One thing I think I should make clear. I am not saying to not challenge them in order to help them grow. What I am saying that the leaders who take the time to learn about, and get to know their people also know when to challenge their people, and how to challenge them.
A perfect example in sports was Herb Brooks and the 1980 Miracle on Ice USA Team. There are a few scenes in the movie that emphasize this. In the beginning of the movie, Herb Brooks says: “I’m not looking for the best players, Craig. I’m looking for the right ones.” And later in the movie, when challenged for how hard he was pushing the team, he refers to a survey he had the team take in order to know how hard he could push each of them. Had Herb Brooks chosen the best players, they would not necessarily been capable of executing in the system he put in place, nor been mentally tough enough to take the punishment of the conditioning he put them through. As a result, we have one of the greatest sports stories of all time, and it’s because a leader knew his people and employed them according to their capabilities, thus setting them up for ultimate success and the defeat of the, then, greatest hockey team in the world.
It’s ironic that we are emphasizing another principle in order for this principle to work, but that is both the beauty and simplicity about it. Some principles can be practiced in isolation and others are dependent upon others. The ability to set your people up for success hinges on you knowing them. If you are to employ them according to their capabilities, you must know their strengths, weaknesses, passions, and dislikes. You become a very effective leader, and should you get to know them enough, you can discover the limits of your people, and push them beyond those limits without breaking their spirits, or moral. In fact, you begin to make them feel invincible. Just answer these questions: How would you have performed had your leadership put you in situations that played to your strengths, and put you on projects that were in line with a passion you had, or interest? When you’re performing in an area of strength, how difficult is it for you to give a little more than the minimum required? And, how much pride do you have in the work you do?
Now, give your people that same feeling of accomplishment and success.
Agoge Leadership Development
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