I recently ran a workshop with 15 high potential female leaders in financial services. Many of the 15 were struggling with their teams. They wanted to be leading teams that were motivated, capable and committed. Instead, their days were spent convincing staff to take responsibility for KPIs. I was told that it felt like pulling teeth.
I gave these women one of my main tips for building a motivated team: Treat your team members like rubber bands—stretch them until they’re almost at breaking point.
As you can imagine, there was some consternation at these words. But I followed up with a caveat: You need to stretch your team members almost to breaking point, but always in line with their strengths and aspirations.
Here’s an interesting statistic for you: If you focus on employees’ weaknesses, their performance will decrease to the tune of -3.2% to -26.8%. If you allow them to play to their strengths, their performance will increase by up to 36.4% (Corporate Leadership Council 2005).
We instinctively know this in our own working lives—we realise that when we’re empowered to play to our strengths rather than told to fix our weaknesses, our own performance and motivation increase substantially.
Because of this, I’m always surprised by the number of leaders who spend 5 minutes of performance reviews covering what the employee did well, and the remaining 55 minutes going through the employee’s weaknesses in almost graphic detail.
As leaders, we have a responsibility to understand our team members’ strengths. Strengths aren’t simply what we’re good at; they also encompass what we love to do. A sure sign that you’re playing to a strength is that you gain intrinsic satisfaction from an activity, and feel stronger after completing it.
When a new employee starts at Inkling Women, we ask them to complete Strengthsfinder 2.0. We also ask them the following 3 questions:
- What do you love to do?
- What, in all honesty, are you really rather good at?
- What do others thank you for?
Every 90 days, we ask them about their aspirations using the following scenario: Imagine that two years has passed and you wake up on a Monday morning. Your career has blossomed and you are excited to go to work and make a difference in a way that is meaningful to you. What does the working week have in store for you?
We then use this data to reshape their role. We throw away position descriptions and start afresh as often as we can. This allows us to ensure that every single team member is in a role they love; a role that plays to their strengths and aspirations.
It also allows their direct managers to stretch them almost to breaking point. Why? Because when you are doing what you love, and you’re clear that this is leading you in a direction that excites you, you want to be stretched.
We give warm, frank and utterly fearless feedback at Inkling Women. And our team members thrive on it, because they know it comes from a deep desire to help them create enjoyable and meaningful careers they are proud of.
You can motivate your team members, but you must do your homework first. Ask them about their strengths. Know their aspirations better than you know your own. Grow your staff quickly, regardless of what the current structure or position description dictates—but always in line with what they love to do now, and what they want to do in the future.