As the old saying goes, if you have only a hammer, you see only nails. Frankly, I’d much rather have the plumber who opens his or her toolbag and has the whole range of tools necessary, rather than the one who brings only a hammer and uses it for everything. It’d be a pretty botched job if they did. Not only that, I’d much rather the plumber who not only has the full tool bag, but also that he or she is proficient at using all of them.
There is a parallel for personal capabilities. We are systems of ‘roles’, that is we have a whole myriad of capabilities at our disposal. They all interact and interconnect with each other. So when you are having a conversation with your staff about their performance, you use not only your ‘clear communicator’ role, but you also call on your ‘relationship manager’ role (you want to ensure that you have a good working relationship after the conversation), your ‘wise change agent’ role (you want to make sure you provide some coaching or mentoring if required) and your ‘lover of people’ role (you want to let your staff know what they are doing well and applaud them for the unique contribution they make to the business). Obvious, I know.
Rarely do we call on just one of our capabilities at any one time. Because we are interconnected systems of roles, it is therefore hard to justify simply ‘playing to your strengths’ and leaving the rest to good luck. I’ve seen many folks in senior positions do just that. Many people use what they’ve got and try to get by. They overuse a role or roles to mask what they haven’t got. Alternatively, they overuse a role at the expense of another which they have, but which is underdeveloped, so this becomes a default setting. Read my earlier post on personal glass ceilings, this is what I’m talking about.
A manager I know struggled to get two teams to work more closely together; not for the sake of it, but because their lack of cooperation was leading to poor outcomes, late delivery on deadlines and dissatisfied clients. She had superb relationship skills and would have endless conversations with each of them, trying to get them to collaborate more. She requested, she coaxed, she enticed, she pleaded. She tried to persuade, she tried to appeal to their better natures, she discussed. All of this was to little avail and she was beginning to feel like a nag. Want to know the thing that got them to work closer together? It wasn’t her communication or relationship skills, both of which she had in spades. It was her ‘big picture thinker’ role. When she set out the big picture of what was happening, each team got more interested in the other. They saw how interconnected they were and that if one fell down, the other followed. Rather than “Could you guys please fill out those client job sheets fully?” it was “When you guys fill out these forms fully, this team over here has a better picture of what they are required to do and won’t have to waste time coming back to you with endless questions and they also will also provide a finished product that is in line with the client’s needs, is on time and will get the client to come back for more.”
Seems simple I know. But it was the quantum (tiniest) shift that made the quantum (biggest) shift, not only in terms of their outputs, but also in terms of inter-team relations (and the manager’s stress levels). She had tried and tried to use the capabilities she was good at, but when she extended herself in an area which was less developed, she got what she was after. No longer would she then have to rely on her hammer, she could use the right tool for the job. She wouldn’t have to just get by on her good relationship skills.
The point here is, there is a danger in resting on your laurels. You will limit your career, your sense of personal satisfaction and yourself if you decide that you’ve learnt enough or that you can just get by on what got you to where you are in your career. I know of one or two people who are a stone’s throw from nabbing a C-suite position, but have made a (probably unconscious) decision that professional development is just for their staff and not for themselves. “I didn’t get where I am today by learning how to be a more consultative boss.” Fine.
Hope you enjoy the view as your staff member leafrogs you to become your CEO.