“Average managers play checkers; great managers play chess” (Harvard Business Review)

I understand the intent behind the saying, “treat everyone the same”, a slogan which is often aimed at managers – meaning “don’t discriminate and don’t have favourites”. The saying, however, doesn’t seem to take into account people’s uniqueness and giftedness. While I strongly believe that everyone should be treated fairly and with dignity and respect, my job as a leader is to discover the unique talents and hidden gifts that individuals bring to a team and utilise the same to achieve team objectives well. Another way of saying the quote above could be: “Why hire people who are different like chess pieces, but then use them like checkers pieces (where all the pieces are the same and move in exactly the same way)?” It just doesn’t make sense from a productivity or passion perspective to use everyone in the same way.

Marcus Buckingham, author of ‘Now, Discover Your Strengths’, speaks to research done with over 80 000 people – he found, in part, the following results:

  • When people get to use their strengths at work, they are more productive and happier within the work environment
  • Teams are more effective, cohesive and perform better when the manager utilises the unique strengths of individuals on the team (employees get to see how they complement each other)
  • Time gets saved and individual accountability increases (people own what they do when managers focus on their strengths)

Managers need to utilise the uniqueness and giftedness of the individuals that comprise the team. This involves the following:

  1. Being observant – watch closely how different team members respond to challenging circumstances or obstacles to success. Look at individual approaches to problem-solving. Get a glimpse into team activities and projects and find out how each team member responds to the demands of work. Being observant gives the manager insight into personal preferences related to ability and giftedness.
  2. Having developmental discussions with individuals – ask relevant questions to get a view of the activities that make individuals either feel fulfilled or when they feel that they are making meaningful contributions to the team’s goals and purpose.
  3. Getting individuals to list their strengths – once listed, ask the individual how his or her strengths could best be utilised within the team context.
  4. Eliminating unnecessary work – reduce or eliminate unnecessary reports, administration, tasks, or responsibilities that don’t add real value to the team’s progress.
  5. Encouraging uniqueness and valuing diversity – give employees opportunity to use their giftedness and strengths most of the time. Recognise achievements publicly and reward everyone appropriately.

Managers must utilise uniqueness usefully within the team. The diversity of present gifts and talents, if capitalised upon, gives the team an edge, leads to better performance and boosts the morale of individuals and the team as a whole.

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