Square Peg, Round Hole

By Pamela A. Scott

Last week I was talking to a client about a principal of his that I am coaching.

“We really need Joanne to step up and take more responsibility,” Fred said. “That’s what we expect when we make someone a principal.”

 “You’ve got a problem, then,” I told Fred. “I’ve done Joanne’s personality type, and she isn’t like you and me. We like to juggle multiple balls at the same time. Joanne doesn’t.”

 “Can’t you teach her to do that?” Fred asked.


 I can teach folks a lot of things, but I draw the line at asking someone to be something they aren’t. Joanne does a great job managing a handful of projects. Clients like her. She’s also sold some work and can probably develop into a successful client manager. But she isn’t going to SUCCESSFULLY manage a bunch of projects.  “You can ask her to manage eight or 10 projects,” I told Fred, “but she’s not going to do a good job, and she is going to be a wreck from the stress. And the clients are going to complain to you.” “Have her do what she does really well,” I said, “and it will pay off in spades for the company.”

This is the approach to managing talent that Marcus Buckingham promotes in his book “Now, Discover Your Strengths,” written with Donald Clifton. Here is a quote from his website www.marcusbuckingham.com. “Years of research prove that individuals and teams playing to their strengths significantly outperform those who don’t in almost every business metric. In fact, the single best predictor of a consistently high-performing team is the answer to this question: ‘At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?’

“Teams with individuals who do massively outperform teams with people who don’t–they’re more profitable, more productive, less likely to quit, less likely to have accidents on the job . . . the list goes on.

“That’s compelling, but this is confounding: Our research reveals that only 12% of people in the workplace play to their strengths ‘most of the time.’ In general, society is fascinated by weaknesses (most employee reviews bear this out), and we take strengths for granted.” Something to consider in an age of performance evaluations.

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