We humans tend to evaluate others through the lens of our own best traits. For example, if you perceive yourself as kind, you will likely notice the trait of kindness in others. And you’ll quickly observe where kindness is lacking.

I saw this every year when our firm (Hewitt Associates) was selecting new partners. We would ask every current owner to evaluate all the potential candidates for the year. The actuaries expressed enthusiasm for people who were detailed, accurate, timely in response, and thorough. They were often negative about people they perceived as showy, loose on details, or overly aggressive.

Our business developers voted positively for people who could make a good presentation, work the room effectively at networking events, and close big deals. They frequently were more negative about “number crunchers” and “computer systems types” (their words, not mine).

Both groups limited their own opportunities by chronically devaluing traits they did not have personally and by using negative words when describing people not like them. Are you doing this unwittingly? And if you are, what effect does it have on your team’s morale and performance?

Two key observations

In my years of coaching managers, I’ve noticed something intriguing. The most effective managers are keenly aware of both their strengths and their shortcomings, and they evaluate employees through both lenses. For example, suppose you find it hard to praise employees when only part of a job is well done. But you recognize one of your employees is a natural cheerleader, who can help co-workers celebrate things done well while gently correcting work that needs improvement. A good manager acknowledges the employee’s cheerleading talent and finds ways to channel it to help the team. He or she is willing to admit, “You are better than me at this. I want to learn from you, and I want to find opportunities for you to use this skill more.”

Less flexible managers undervalue traits they are not personally good at. If they even notice the cheerleader, they wouldn’t automatically think about ways to harness that talent for the good of the organization. And often, there’s a blind spot that prevents the manager from consciously recognizing an employee’s strengths.

Do you have such a blind spot?

Here’s an exercise to find out:

  1. Complete the questionnaire at www.ManagingPeopleBetter.com (it’s free and you get a personal report with feedback on your current management approach).
  2. Create a list of your employees. Across the top of the page, write a few areas you don’t feel strong in, based on the questionnaire results.
  3. Think about each employee. Who excels in areas where you are weaker?
  4. Answer honestly: do you regularly express appreciation when an employee is good at a skill that isn’t your strength? Or do you discount or minimize the importance of this skill? Have you observed this strength before?
  5. Find a way to utilize each employee’s talent, then acknowledge and appreciate it.

Watch what happens as you begin to embrace your employees more fully. Consider keeping a journal of your observations. You will likely notice improvements in morale, engagement, and team dynamics. And that’s a recipe for better business results.

p.s. I’d welcome hearing the insights you gain from this exercise. Hope you’ll share your thoughts and anecdotes in the comments section below (or email me at support@ManagingPeopleBetter.com).

Peter E. Friedes
Retired CEO, Hewitt Associates. Co-founder, Managing People Better, LLC—a management research firm/think tank. Avid competitive golfer (when my back cooperates).Connect with Peter on his Lead Change or Twitter profiles.
Peter E. Friedes

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Peter E. Friedes