Your Best Assets
When was the last time you had an employee problem?
Probably like five minutes ago, right?
People management is one of the greatest challenges of leadership and is often the thing we are the least equipped for. No amount of textbook training can prepare you for the real world dynamic of managing people.
Let me take you back to the starting gate of my career…
A couple of years of loyal hard work had earned me a promotion, and I was extremely proud that I was going to be responsible for managing another employee. It didn’t take long before I found myself exasperated because my new wonderful employee wasn’t doing things exactly the way I thought she should or the way I had instructed her.
As a type A, dominant achiever, and now a first-time manager, I was any employee’s living nightmare. I, of course, thought I was her greatest gift.
My new employee wasn’t meeting my expectations, so in my frustration I went to my boss, the VP and a mentor in my life, for counsel. But rather than nod in agreement and share my frustration, he said something to me that frankly just made me mad. He said, “Jenni, you’re working with people not widgets. If you want things to be perfect and go exactly your way, you’re in the wrong business.”
I wasn’t particularly fond of his feedback. I had walked into his office convinced my employee was the problem, but my boss was quick to point out that it wasn’t my employee—it was me. The problem lay with my perspective. I was expecting leadership to be simple and streamlined, to align with my neat and tidy ideals. I was envisioning an assembly line of “people-widgets” carrying out my every instruction without applying their thoughts, ideas, gifts, or experiences. I wanted a simple and controllable dictatorship, not leadership. That early lesson was a defining point in my leadership life.
In my pomp and arrogance I was making leadership about me. That experience was my first memorable introduction to the idea that leadership is a very complex issue. It’s not an assembly line of widgets responding to my every beck and call. It’s not clearly definable and controllable outcomes. Its not well-conceived plans that never fail. It’s not circumstances that I can always control. Leadership is messy, murky, complicated, and rarely black-and- white.
Fast forward a couple of decades, add a couple hundred more employees and many poor leadership moments on my part and I find myself more committed than ever to the importance of the influence leaders have on the lives of those we lead.
We have the unbelievable privilege and responsibility to impact and shape the lives of those we lead. We have the ability to see their giftedness and create pathways to develop it. We have strategic influence to open doors and make introductions.
But time and time again I see leaders get disenchanted with their staff. I’ve done it myself. We focus on their weaknesses more than their strengths. We see the mistakes rather than the wins. We constantly critique rather than encourage.
I frequently work with leaders who feel like they need to make staff changes or do a major overhaul to the organizational chart. They are on the hunt to hire that elusive hero who will make all their problems go away. While staff changes and reorganizations may sometimes be necessary, I challenge them to pause. Before you look for the next great rock star who will come in and solve all your problems, step back and take a look around.
- What is your staff doing well?
- What problems are you not having to solve because they are already solving them?
- What talents are not being used? Who has more capacity?
- Who has interest in developing a new idea or product? What if you released them to try it?
- Who has God placed around you and what talent are you leaving untapped? How could you unleash that talent for the unique good of your organization?
Here’s the deal… too often we’re eager to rush ahead and we neglect to notice that some of our best assets are sitting right beside us. You don’t need that rock star employee over at XYZ competitor. They may be a rock star there but it’s no guarantee they’ll be a rock star for you. Your job is to steward the talent you have. And no, that doesn’t mean that you never have to let a staff person go. Those occasions occur. People will come and go. But look for your hidden gems. Don’t allow “a prophet to be without honor in his own country”.
See the talent. Call it out and put to the great good of your organization!