Strengths vs Weaknesses -Where Should You Concentrate Your Efforts

rope pull

Forbes says forget the weaknesses, go full tilt and maximizing your strengths: (https://www.forbes.com/sites/actiontrumpseverything/2013/07/10/forget-about-working-on-your-weakness-play-to-your-strengths-your-overwhelming-reaction/#13da9c1d7765)

Harvard Business Review says just the opposite, that coaching has taken the “strengths” thing too far, that there is no scientific data to back this up, and that weaknesses must be attended to: (https://hbr.org/ideacast/2016/01/stop-focusing-on-your-strengths.html).

As the HBR article points out – toxic office behaviors are at the root of much of corporate dysfunction.  Bright people are often the biggest perpetrators.  So, what to do?  From the research, it looks like making a conscientious effort to work on weaknesses truly can help a person function better at work to the tune of 30-40% more effectiveness at their jobs.  The major reason this approach has fallen out of favor among coaches and self-help guides is that, “let me help you fix your faults” is not the sexy message that sells coaching and books.  However, it is what keeps workers employed, and ultimately it is the work that will remove the road blocks that keep an employee from promotions and raises. Bosses are loathe to comment on weaknesses.  Gone are the days of a manager who just manages others. They are busy with their own deliverables and unpleasant conversations derail their flow.  Often they ignore the telltale signs and only address problems after the issues have built up for a while.  You know what also builds up? Impatience and anger at the employee, such that many times by the time feedback on negative behaviors is shared, the manager has already demoted the employee in their mind. This makes it much harder for the employee to have a positive impact when they do address problems and change. Like a halo effect, the manager is carrying around the baggage from the pileup of infractions which comes with emotions that are fraught.

What’s the quick way to rectify this? An honest positive relationship with a manager.  Your willingness to start your first few weeks at a job encouraging the manager to give all kinds of feedback – positive and negative – will put him/her at ease.  You can even go into your weekly meetings (hopefully you are having those) with your own self-aware critiques to share.

You don’t want to over do the negative – start with items from your list of weekly accomplishments, intermittently bringing up difficulties and challenges – maybe 25% of the discussion can be about challenges?  The conversation will feel a lot like the point in an interview when they ask, “What are your weaknesses?” As I’m sure you know, the formula for the weakness answer is, “here is something I find challenging,” (give a real example). Follow up with, “here is how I am attempting to work on it (give examples).”  Unlike in an interview, you will take this one step further.  Add, “do you have any ideas how I could get better faster on this issue?”  This kind of dialogue, said in a positive and collaborative way, will get you far better input than just focusing on accomplishments.  And if your manager is not receptive, try it with a colleague with a communications style you really appreciate.  A, “really level with me” conversation with a trusted colleague or boss can make the world of difference, particularly if it is interwoven into a broader conversation that brings up your strengths.

 

Networking: Start Early, Start Small

If you have a neighbor whose young adult child has a job in a restaurant, and you have a different neighbor who owns a restaurant, start small and network with the young adult first.  Have your child talk to someone closer to their age, whose job experiences have more relevance.  Speaking to an older accomplished adult can be very intimidating.  Students have to practice before they can talk to an executive level professional.  Students – don’t leave this networking up to your parents and their friends: try to maintain connections with students a bit older than you whom you know from school or an activity.  Seek out those who seem to be going places – they will likely be great networking sources as you grow and expand your interests in the world of work.

For students and their families who are about to embark on a networking project, I’d like to help you put this into perspective. Imagine you personally (parent or student) might want to run for an elected town board position.  Your neighbor says they know the Mayor of the closest large city and suggests you talk to them to learn about local politics (e.g. the Mayor of Boston for instance, or of Phoenix).  Picture yourself: your first foray into networking is with that Mayor – intimidating, right?  Don’t make this mistake. In networking, we often try to reach out to the most powerful and connected adults we know  in the hopes of gaining career insight, or an internship, or a job…fast.  And, we adults, with very good intentions, often jump the shark when helping students by introducing them to these high level contacts.

Students, however, need to practice having conversations first.  The point of these initial conversations is not just about making rain from the conversations.  Remember, this is the era of less and less verbal discourse.  So, students don’t come to networking having much practice at formal conversation. Make the entry-point into networking easy. Students need accessible, personable contacts who help encourage them and help them practice the art of formal discussion – teachers, the clergy, self-employed people in your town are all great first starts.  And, regardless of whom you are meeting, set yourself up for success.  Confirm your appointment the day before, pre-write a draft thank you (so it can be edited quickly with a few personalized details and be sent within a day of the meeting-email thank yous are fine). Foremost, arrive with a list of 5-8 questions you have practiced with a family member. (Examples: how did you get into this line of work; what classes in school helped you; what characteristics make someone good at your kind of job; if you were starting out now, what would you do to get yourself ready; what other things do you do outside of work that you enjoy; is there anyone else you think I should talk to or any websites or books or magazines I should look at?…)

Starting small and in this low-stakes way – much like trying out a bicycle with training wheels or learning to ski on the bunny slope, will reduce anxiety and improve your success.  Watch how you blossom as you graduate to more and more complicated conversations with more and more connected individuals over time.  Your standard list of questions will begin to trip off your tongue naturally.  You will add new questions effortlessly.  Your confidence will grow – age appropriately – so that those whom you meet won’t question how you made the contact or why they are speaking with you.  You will right-size your ability with your opportunities, and the whole process will be more comfortable and yield better results.

training wheels

 

 

Start The Path to Working When Your Child is Young

BOred kids
Days seem longer when you are starting out in the world of work.

 

As you probably know, I believe that academic success and leadership positions are overrated as tools that help students move from school to full time work.  Of course these successes are nice features to have in your toolkit.  But, we all know many successful professionals who were C students and never led a club or a team during any of their high school or college years.  So, what does matter in the toolkit of young adult?  IMHO, the most important features of a successful young adult job applicant are: self-awareness, teamwork, organizational skills and the willingness to seek out mentoring and be managed by a boss. Develop these areas starting at a young age and you are likely to have a successful transition to paid employment later in life.

Kids need to experience work.

But, how do you get them there?  Parents: start young — assigning household chores will start to build your child’s tolerance for the pacing when they enter the workforce.  Slowly have them graduate from chores to ever more challenging neighborhood jobs.

But first, help them practice Self-Awareness as they try out jobs with a close neighbor or family friend.  Ask them to brainstorm, “what skills do I have?” “what do I like doing?” “Why do I like doing that?” Often they will select pet sitting, babysitting, snow shoveling and yard work – help them to explore why they enjoy these tasks and maybe even relate these tasks to a few parallel adult careers like pet sitting might lead to vet tech or hotel management or being a fundraiser at the zoo. Baby sitting might lead to teacher or child psychologist.  Shoveling and yard work might lead to owning a landscaping business or becoming a plant scientist or construction supervisor or civil engineer.

Second, help them master Organization:  Before they start their job, have them create a Task List that they regularly review with a list of the steps they should always follow in order to be a success in their job (example: always double check that you locked the door when you finish dog sitting).  This list should be thorough, clear, ordered in proper sequence.

Additionally this list should contain 3-4 steps where they experience Teamwork with you as their “team member” so they consciously practice having good communication. Example of a teamwork-oriented step: “Work with (Mom, Dad, My Sitter, My Older Sibling) to get a ride to my job.  Request a ride early!” or “Work with (family member/sitter) to help me to remember where I will keep my copy of the pet owner’s key. ”

Finally, when they have perfected their Task List, have them share the list with the person who has hired them and request feedback.  This step promotes a relationship of Mentoring and allows the person employing them to Act Like A Boss, showing them improvements and specific ways they like tasks to be done and then setting the stage for the employer to correct the child if it is not done properly. (Clue the neighbor/family friend in if you can, so they understand the role they will be playing with your child).

To be successful and happy in full time work later on, most young people need to have practiced the separate rhythm of work beginning at a young age. They need to experience progressively more complicated jobs in many settings as a tween and teen before they can transition successfully into a full time job in the workforce.  Patiently helping them learn from you and then giving them a step-by-step path to begin learning from outside employers will solidify their ability to work effectively at the entry level, both by themselves and in groups, while reporting to a demanding manager.