Seek the Best in Others

This post is one in my series “Soft Skills for Hard Time; How to be Your Best When the Economy is a Mess”.  My goal is to get you to appreciate that your security comes from within and you can increase your security and value to the marketplace by investing in your soft skills.

In the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Steve Martin and John Candy were paired up as an odd couple that were stuck together in a nightmare travel scenario.  The two of them had very little in common yet they were stuck together through the whole movie.  You can see by looking at them that they are very different.

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Early on, the character played by Steve Martin establishes that he is the more sophisticated of the two, the “better” of the two.  It is clear that he doesn’t like John Candy’s character though he is polite enough to not ssay anything out loud.  However, Candy begins to get under his skin and you can see the result as his irritation builds and builds and he has a lot of trouble keeping his cool.  And as their situation worsens, he starts to find more and more tiny faults in John Candy’s character.

Do you do that?  Do you start out polite with everyone and then when things get tough, you begin to criticize them or find fault with them?

I know I do.  I am a natural born critic.  I tend to sell people short.  Not usually when things are going well.  But when things are not going well, I tend to find every fault they have.  It is almost like each little tiny quirk is magnified X 100.  And, because I am in the red project recovery business, I often find that I am in situations where things aren’t going so well.  And so the tiny cracks and quirks cause me to grit my teeth and just want to choke someone.

The way out of this type of thinking is to make it a point to find the best in everyone.  This is something that my wife is great at but I struggle with.  Everyone has a strong suit; we just need to pay attention to them and determine what it is.  If you haven’t found someone’s strengths and weaknesses, you haven’t tried.  And it will help you immensely if you can develop the habit of quickly sizing up people.

Go one step further by striving to affirm others.  Make it a point to call out there positive points and strengths.  Build the muscle of finding the best in others.

Last year I took on a group of projects that were in trouble.  I spent a lot of time thinking about the 6 project leaders responsible for those projects.  And I began to perform regular assessments of them and their leadership skills.

This is really easy to do.  Just start by listing each of your team members in a column and then draw a column for strengths and weaknesses.  I do this in a three column format – been doing it this way for year.  The format helps me to see if any patterns emerge.  I also can see where there may be opportunities to pair people up to balance strengths and weaknesses.  In fact, you will see my own name on the list.

The key to success here is not perfection – it is to raise your level of awareness of the capabilities of your team.  A few weeks after I completed the analysis above, I was asked by my executive sponsor what leadership changes we needed to make.  I had a pretty good idea and I was able to make recommendations based on strengths and weaknesses and not just on how I felt about an individual in the moment.  We moved one person out of a leadership position and changed the responsibilities of two others.  The project tea thrived as a result.

Action Steps:

  1. Complete a strengths and weaknesses analysis for your current team.  This shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes.
  2. Look for clear gaps or shortcomings in yourself and others and determine how you can pair people up.
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