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MANAGEMENT: Bringing Out the Best in Your Team
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 Imagine being invited to play a special variation of chess. The winner will be awarded 1,000 CNY and you get to pick playing either black or white. The black set consists of the standard collection of chess pieces, while the white one consists of only pawns and the king. Which would you choose?

If you like winning, you would choose the black set because of the obvious advantages of being able to utilise the powerful moves of the rooks, the knights, the bishops and the queen. With the odds so much in favour of the black side, it's hard to imagine the white side lasting very long. Surprisingly, research suggests that many managers approach their jobs in a manner that is similar to the white chess set consisting only of pawns. This seemingly obvious error is due to the fact that many managers fail to recognise or capitalise on the uniqueness of each of their team members.

Researcher and author Marcus Buckingham explores this issue in his book, ‘The One Thing You Need to Know…about Great Managing, Great Leading and Sustained Individual Success’. Managers who only see their team members as generic workers (i.e. pawns) put themselves at a distinct disadvantage to those who learn how to harness the unique talents and passions of their teams. By way of contrast, "great managers" approach their teams like master chess players, intentionally leveraging each team member's uniqueness in powerful ways.  Buckingham writes that the "one thing" great managers do is "discover what is unique to individuals and capitalise on it." This is done by learning and working with each team member's strengths, weaknesses, triggers and learning styles.


Strengths and Weaknessesalt

Great managers recognise that there are no "generic employees." Each team member possesses natural talents and weaknesses that make them different from the people around them. Maximum potential is achieved when individuals develop their talents into strengths (i.e. reliable, near-perfect performance) and manage their weaknesses (i.e. only give their weaknesses enough attention to neutralise them). For example, if John is great at meeting new people at networking events and turning those new people into clients, then a great manager would make sure John focused his energies on using and developing his skills to even greater potential. Similarly, when John confesses that he regularly falls behind in submitting his expense reports and often lacks some of the necessary paperwork, a great manager would help John find a way to minimise his paperwork demands and/or the impact of that weakness.



Triggers are the situational motivators that bring out the best in people  (or turn them off). Great managers learn each team member's passions, motivations, and encouraging triggers and use them wisely. The tricky part is that triggers are unique for each person and may even be the exact opposite for different members. For example, one team member may love competitions and thrive on weekly or quarterly challenges and contests, while another team member may feel burdened by the extra attention that accompanies contests and actually lower their performance out of ‘stage-fright’-type issues.  Nevertheless, great managers recognise that the key to unlocking the maximum potential in their team members is learning what dynamics bring out the best in their people and then creating customised environments for each of their team members.

Learning Styles

In addition to learning each team member's strengths, weaknesses, and triggers, great managers discover and capitalise on their team member's unique learning styles.  Since the vast majority of contemporary work requires on-going learning, managers need to ensure that their team members are making the most out of their learning opportunities. As with the other areas, no two employees are alike, so great managers learn to work with the preferred learning styles of each of their team members. For example, Susan may be someone who requires understanding a process from beginning to end before engaging in the new behaviour. Consequently, she would most likely benefit from fully reading a book or manual before needing to perform. In contrast, Steven may ignore the manual completely and prefer jumping in and trying things out on his own. Creating an environment where Steven can experiment on his own before going public would capitalise on his learning style. Obviously, not every learning requirement will allow for every learning style; however, great managers find ways to enable their team members the best opportunities to learn and grow that fit their personality.


Learning how to bring out the best in one's team requires time, energy, and dedication from a manager. It means not settling for a ‘one size fits all’ management style and adapting oneself to discover and capitalise on the uniqueness of each team member. Learning the unique strengths, weaknesses, triggers and learning styles is more work than simply following a generic management model; however, this is exactly what great managers do. The payoff is in the performance of the team and in the development of the team members. 

By Dr.David Zovak, is an experienced leadership coach in LDi Training(www.lditraining.cn).
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