Leading in your Strength Zone

Never lose sight of what you’re great at.

(The below is a slightly modified version of an e-mail I sent to my team on Nov. 2nd, 2016)

Yesterday night I saw something during a soccer game that made me think. It’s minute 87 of the game… 3 more minutes to go, maybe 6 with injury time. The result is 2–2. Here is the context: a player finds himself alone, few meters out of the box with the goalie running forward in the desperate attempt to stop him. (His team was actually 2–0 down at some point in the game… and they absolutely needed to win). What does this guy do? Something unthinkable: instead of shooting directly to the goal (which would have been a fairly easy and effective solution) he lobs the goalkeeper just as far as needed to run around him to recollect the ball, then carries on, dribbles couple of retreating defenders and fires the ball into the back of the next. Insanely brilliant.

Leadership paradigms have evolved a lot recently. And keep evolving.
I remember an episode from 10 years ago. My manager asked me, prior to our yearly performance-evaluation discussion: “Vale, what do you think is the most important part of the performance evaluation?”. I answered: “The Development Needs section”. He was pleased with my answer. For many years, that’s indeed what we all believed: you need to know what are you pitfalls, your areas for improvement, what you need to do better. Work on your weaknesses! Close the gaps!

Only in the last couple of years I began to realize how that mindset can be often misleading. It may bring you to focus on aspects which might not be relevant to your role or require significant efforts on your side with little incremental improvements. It may guide you to spend more time in places where you don’t excel nor enjoy.
This being said I still believe there’s a huge value in knowing yourself, your conditioning, your behavioral patterns, your biases. Understanding what you can do better or differently can really drive you to grow, as a person and as a professional.

However the risk is to put too much emphasis on the development needs vs. the strengths in the context of personal growth.
Your strengths make you different, they make you who you are. These are the traits that allow you to succeed in your role, to step up in your career and provide value to the team — and ultimately to the company.

Creativity and breakthroughs stem from our strengths and from the amount of time we can individually and collectively spend in the activities in which we flow and thrive.

These are probably the zones in which knowing our limits is totally unnecessary… perhaps because there are no limits.
For example, working from an inner state of enjoyment gives you the confidence to make decisions based on your instinct instead of using cognition (which often entails more time/efforts/analysis) to solve problems that require a fast resolution or embed a significant risk.

The goal I witnessed yesterday epitomizes what playing in your strength zone entails.

Today we know our role as leaders is to empower ourselves and our people to blossom, to spend time on what they do best, and on what they love doing.
It’s not by chance that we as a company have eliminated yearly performance rating. There’s now a system that encourages continuous feedback and regular connections.
This is the way to move forward. Never lose sight of what you’re great at.


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