Monday, July 26, 2010

Passing the Torch - Part 2

There is a current push in Fortune 500 corporate type circles to help employees identify their areas of strength so that the employees can leverage those strengths to make more money for the company. It’s actually the result of a 30 year study, conducted by Gallup, where the research team tried to identify characteristics that top performers share. They were looking for one or maybe a few psychological factors or talents that high achievers have in common. The thinking was, apparently, that if they knew what they were looking for, it would be easier to eliminate the poor performers before they were stuck with them as employees. Stick with me here because this is really very interesting and has application in parenting too.

Gallup looked at workers across every conceivable field of interest, including financiers, teachers, artists, athletes, doctors, lawyers, tinkers, and tailors. The reason it took the researchers 30 years is that they couldn’t pinpoint any particular set of psychological traits or personality types that were shared by the people they studied. What they ultimately found is that there are 29 different areas of strength (i.e. leadership, flexibility, rational thought, harmony, deliberation, etc) and that nobody is good at all of them but everybody is good at some of them. What top performers share is that they have risen to the top because they have learned to capitalize on their areas of strength rather than working fruitlessly to improve their ability to perform in those areas where they are weak.

It was an eye opener for large-scale employers. The days where annual reviews focus on what you didn’t accomplish or what you could have done better are giving way to giving employees ownership of the jobs they do and getting them to engage in their jobs by identifying and recognizing their areas of strength.

Long before I was exposed to the results of the Gallup study, I recognized that most parents have a tendency to look at the children of their friends and acquaintances and see THOSE children for all the things they are. And then they look at their own children and see all the things their own offspring aren’t. That’s not a criticism of parents. Lord knows I’ve spent most of the last 30 years in the same pattern. All the way through high school, if any of my children brought home a report card that had three A’s, two B’s, and a D, it was the D that got attention. That kind of parenting behavior is rooted in all the hopes and dreams we have for our children because we love them. Now I think that approach is as counter-productive in aiding them to reach their potential as primarily focusing on the things they are good at, and not dwelling on their failures, is counter-intuitive. It’s simply not part of most of our parenting bags of tricks to ignore what we perceive as deficiencies. But good parents, like good employers, can learn to focus on areas of excellence, in order to maximize potential. They can learn that you cannot turn a weakness into a strength; that all we can really do is help those in our charge develop ways to minimize the impact of
the weaknesses.

And so most of this is another iteration of that singular theme from yesterday. Chill. Recognize that she is what she is; assisted by her unique combination of genes and acknowledge that nature and nurture should work in harmony to bring her to her best. If she is going to be a lily, you can’t turn her into a cactus by withholding water. And, if she’s destined to thrive in the desert, more water than she needs will keep her from blooming.

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