"We do not ever want to turn a blind eye to our employees. How much fruit would they be capable of bearing if they received a little more attention, a little more care."
Ignorance is Not Bliss
I have an entire chapter in my most recent book on leadership, The Art of Caring Leadership, on looking for greatness in those we lead. I detail how to take into consideration their strengths in order to better lead them and guide your organization to success. The art of leadership is perfected and achieves greater success when the leading extends beyond just the hands of leadership. The more you know about your employees’ strengths, the better your team will work.
While leadership can feel very lonely in theory, especially for leaders who are part of a one-person team, it is an action that thrives the more perspectives it takes into consideration. A leader who makes decisions without consulting others comes across as self-centered. Leaders, like all human beings, are imperfect and we have limited perspectives and often very particular points of view.
A Plumb Metaphor
Think of it in terms of this story. When I first moved into my house back in 2007, I barely noticed a big purple tree in our front yard. Fast forward a bit, my neighbors are moving away and they come over to say goodbye. She mentions how grateful she was for all the plums they got from our tree. It was a plum tree! I had a fruit-bearing tree in my yard for months without even noticing it! Luckily, my neighbor was able to put some of the plums to good use, but I wonder how many grew and died without ever being used.
We do not ever want to turn a blind eye to our employees. How much fruit would they be capable of bearing if they received a little more attention, a little more care. Heck, even just looking is the key sometimes. Imagine that, their talents on full display for anyone to see if you just stop and observe for a mere matter of minutes.
I don’t know about you, but I can attest I know what a plum looks like. I really just didn’t ever look. But the plums were right there, plumb in the middle of my yard.
What’s the Plum Tree in your Life?
In the chapter of my book on looking for and leveraging greatness, I detail some actionable steps leaders can take to notice more.
The first way to do this is by looking for the things that make your employees shine. Spend some time with them, ask them key questions and learn what it is that sets their hearts on fire. Whether work related or not, these details are invaluable and establish a deeper connection between leadership and employees.
A Fruitful Environment
There is something else that is just as important as watching for these shining moments: provide your employees a space to shine in. Begin meetings with casual discussion about people’s lives, listen to what it is they spend their time talking about, or what excites them. Make sure their position gives them room to take risks and innovate. If you manage employees who perform a lot of the “busy work” for your organization, then present them with a new challenge or task that expands their horizons more.
If you have routine meetings or performance reviews, then incorporate interview questions that get your team to consider their strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes people are very in tune with their best skills and lesser abilities. Asking someone what they can improve in and what they excel in can be very telling for a leader who has less time to devote to observational activities. The environment for conversations with leadership can be the perfect place to catch the driving passions of your team, the things that make their eyes light up.
Find Outside Support
It can be hard to be the sole driver of an initiative and one that requires deeper connections with all your employees is a tall order. I do encourage leaders to give as much of themselves as they can while trying to get to know their employees. I recognize that there are human limitations. To compensate for our own fallibility, I always recommend a secondary source of information. Your personal research might not unearth all the skills and talents of your team. Oftentimes, your employees aren’t even aware of all of their special talents. It’s better for everyone to also study your team’s strengths through an outside source.
One of the best ways to know and see where your employees produce their richest fruits is by using assessments to gauge their strengths. I love the StrengthsFinder assessment. Once you pin down their strengths you have the fun job of making sure they can utilize their skills and maximize their strengths. Trust me when I say, it is fun for both the employee and their leader when the employee discovers the best that’s inside of them. People thrive doing what they are good at, and we tend to enjoy it more too.
Other Ways to Harvest
Apart from going to the employee themselves, or to their scores on assessments, there are other means of discovering your teams’ strengths.
● Social or intranet posts
● All staff feedback
● Team successes and failures
After exercising each of these principles to uncover your team’s strengths, you will be well-equipped to open the doors for your employees so that they may thrive.
Without considering your team’s strengths and giving them opportunities to use them, your organization can suffer. Organizations that don’t offer fertile soil for your employees to grow in find themselves held back by things like: revenue losses, tarnished reputation, lost customers and a lack of faith in leadership.
Be a part of their success story and they will be the fruits of yours.