You know what it is like to hide behind a weakness. We all have them and many of us try to hide them at all costs when you are trying to impress workplace leaders or perhaps just keep your job.
Everyone on the team you are leading right now has plenty of weaknesses. The good thing is that they don’t usually affect their job performance because their role has them working in an area of strength or they have learned to compensate for their limitations in some way.
In a recent webinar I was conducting on trust building, a participant asked, “How should we deal with weaknesses?” She was referring to addressing the weaknesses of team members and unfortunately there wasn’t a quick and easy answer for her so I have decided to write about it here.
Years ago when I was backpacking around New Zealand, I got a job in an apple orchard picking apples. A few weeks prior I was working in a mandarin orange orchard, working a job that had me ‘thinning’ the mandarins, which means picking a few off each branch so the others had room to grow.
Having previous picking experience, I figured apple picking couldn’t be that hard and there was a chance to make more money as I was paid by the bin full. I was fit and not afraid of hard work. I was going to cash in.
I was surprised to learn on the first day of my job that apple picking wasn’t just about hauling your ladder up to the tree and picking all the apples off as fast as you can and moving on to the next tree. You see, not every apple ripens on the tree at the same time so over a month the same tree may need to be picked three or four times.
A few days into the job, it became clear to me that one of my weaknesses was preventing me from doing my job well. It wasn’t evident to my employer right away as I managed to hide it or come up with excuses the first few days. Eventually, I realized my weakness was going to affect my pay and I knew I had to tell my employer to see if he could help in any way or I would have to quit.
You see my weakness in this case was having mild color impairment. No, I am not color blind and I can tell all primary colors, but I struggle with differentiating shades of colors. As it turns out, picking apples is not a great occupation for someone with color impairment as there is slight difference in the apple shades between a ripe and an unripe apple.
My boss was probably guessing something was up because he would regularly come over to my bin (that I get paid for when full) and started picking out non-ripe apples and tossing them on the ground, the same apples I had just spent hours picking. After a few days of this, I approached my boss and told him my issue. Ah, now it made total sense to him. We agreed picking wasn’t going to work for me but he liked me and saw I was a hard worker so he offered me another job on the orchard.
Discussions before Actions
In a tight budget, deadline driven world, it is natural for leaders to show little patience for a person’s weakness, especially one that is jeopardizing the team’s progress. The kneejerk reaction would be to replace that person with someone else. However, before you react to dealing with a person’s weakness, it is essential that a discussion be held to identify the area of weakness and possible solutions. In most cases, removing a person from the team should be the last step.
Here are several possible solutions to overcoming a person’s weakness in on the job performance.
- Provide Additional Training: There may be a role in the position that the person never received adequate training in. With additional training, their pervious limitations may dissolve.
- Coaching & Mentorship: In a new role the person may have been “thrown in the deep end” and left to figure things out on their own. This maneuver often causes people to flounder in their role. With coaching and mentoring from people in or outside the organization, the person’s learning curve can be drastically reduced and mistakes avoided.
- Tools: A person may be lacking the proper or best tools to perform their role to the level you expect. Their current tools may be out of date or not as effective as they could be, causing inadequacy in their performance.
- Systems: Systems are usually put in place to increase safety and efficiency but a system put in place to support one particular person or project may not be the best system for all. If a weakness is shining through in a person’s work, reevaluate the system the person is working in. With a slight change, many problems can often be compensated for.
- Alter Responsibilities: If a person’s weakness leaves them unable to perform their role without other interventions, such as my apple picking example, it is best they are moved into a role that plays to their strengths. If this position does not exist on the team, in a last resort it may be best for them to be removed from the team.
Shockingly, a recent Gallup survey revealed that globally, only 20% of employees working in large organizations feel their strengths are in play every day. As disturbing as this statistic is, it also shows a tremendous growth opportunity of many teams and organizations.
Are your team member’s weaknesses negatively affecting the team’s performance? By utilizing the steps listed above, it is your responsibility as a leader to address the weaknesses and move people’s responsibilities so that it is more in line with their strengths.
Action: If you suspect a team member has a weakness that is affecting their performance or that of the team, use the tools listed to eliminate the weakness from affecting the team’s performance.
Until next week… Embrace the Adventure
Shawn Stratton is an international leadership and team building consultant, professional speaker, bestselling author, Ironman competitor, and expedition guide.
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