Rudolph Giuliani is probably best known for being the mayor of New York during the attacks of 9/11, and his response during the events of 9/11 and the weeks that followed are an example of the leadership practices he put in place early on as mayor. Giuliani wrote in his book Leadership that one of the most important things a leader can do is learn the strengths of the people who work for him and then put people in a position where their strengths can be used to their fullest ability.
When I face an issue with an employee that involves them struggling to do well in their job, one of the first questions I ask myself is, “What are this person’s strengths, and are they in a position where those strengths are best used?”
Someone can be sufficiently skilled in fixing a toilet, but that doesn’t mean that maintenance is the best place for them to work if they are much better at empathy, relational interaction, and emotional intelligence. That is the kind of person who needs to do case management and outreach rather than turning a wrench. At the same time, a person who is not relational and is often judgmental and antagonistic toward people probably needs a job with little human interaction.
Leaders need to put people in the right place to maximize outcomes.
An employee or volunteer who doesn’t feel like they can use their skills will have contempt for being underutilized. Their contempt will turn into complaining that is infectious in the workplace and will move from person to person. When staff morale drops because of complaining, leaders will struggle to find ways to raise morale. More time than not, however, leaders would do well to find the source of the low morale and make adjustments. Often you will find that simply moving around staff will make a difference in staff morale.
Ron Clark’s book Move Your Bus outlines the four classifications of workers in the workplace: runners, joggers, walkers, and riders. As you can imagine, runners are your over-achievers, joggers are your consistently reliable workers, walkers do just enough to get by without getting fired, and riders are just showing up to get a paycheck.
According to Clark, riders are hopeless. He says that you shouldn’t waste your time trying to improve them because the best you can hope for is a temporary walker, which is a poor return on the investment it takes to get someone there.
I contend, however, that it is possible riders are where they are because they feel trapped and unable to use their strengths. That isn’t to say that all riders are in that position, but before you write them off, figure out where their passions are. If their passions are outside of what your agency or company has to offer, then help them get somewhere they can excel. If on the other hand, you can offer the opportunity they need to express themselves and find fulfillment, then give them a chance to use their strengths.
I met with a friend lately who told me that she was indebted to her boss because she was the one who gave her a chance when no one else would. Now she is a powerhouse in her organization for accomplishing great things, and she is on track to, one day, be a top leader in the agency. Her boss saw the strengths she had and used them.
Question: Examine what your people have to offer. Are they falling behind because their skills aren’t being used in the right place? You can leave a comment by clicking here.