Think of a skill you highly value in others. Chances are it’s a skill where you personally excel. Salespeople notice strong presentation and relational skills. Accountants often prize attention to detail. It is common to appreciate in others (or over-appreciate) skills you are good at and to discount the value of skills you are less good at. This tendency is problematic if you are a manager.
When I was CEO of Hewitt Associates, an HR consulting firm (now Aon Hewitt), we were a partnership. Each year, we asked all the current partners to provide feedback regarding every partner candidate they had personally worked with. These appraisals told us as much about the evaluators as the people they were evaluating.
Our account managers liked candidates who were versatile and had broad knowledge. Our business developers endorsed highly personable candidates who were dynamic, persuasive presenters. Our actuaries noted accuracy, speed, and an unflinching willingness to tackle complex analysis and calculations. Our lawyers had a hard time appreciating what the head of recruiting did for the firm that might deserve partnership. Most of the partners evaluated candidates through the lens of their own best skills.
The Executive Committee and I took particular notice of partners who appreciated skills they themselves did not have. It was these partners we considered for broader management positions, because we had learned over time that the best managers:
- Ask themselves, “What am I weak at, and who among my employees can best cover for my weaknesses?”
- Make a list of each employee’s top skills and use this information when assigning work, so that most of the time, employees are operating from their strengths.
- Help employees feel appreciated for everything they are good at.
On occasion, you may want to ask employees to work outside their comfort zones to help them stretch, gain vital experience, or overcome weaknesses, as long as you can cover for those weaknesses before the work reaches the client. But the majority of the time, you want employees to utilize their best skills.
Being an effective manager requires fighting human nature—resisting the tendency for like-me hiring and promotion, and realizing that the best team performance comes from appreciating and embracing diverse skill sets and temperaments.
Are you ready to look at your skills and the skills of each of your employees in an objective way?