Guest AuthorMahalingam

Making Strengths Productive and Weaknesses Irrelevant

Source | C. Mahalingam

Perspective is important in effective management of people. And it is common sense that dictates a manager’s effectiveness

In this column, I propose to borrow extensively from Peter Drucker’s seminal work entitled “Effective Executive” and share some perspectives on effective management of people. Many of these thoughts and ideas are shar
ed by other management thinkers and gurus like Marcus Buckingham of Gallup fame as well.

Staffing for success is a significant part of talent management responsibility of every people manager. Common sense dictates that managers’ effectiveness is, but a direct result and synergy of the effectiveness of people they bring on board.

Focus on Strengths:

Extraordinary people managers are those that get extra-ordinary results from ordinary people. And they do so by focusing on what strengths their people bring to work. When they proceed to build their teams, their focus is not on minimizing weaknesses but on maximizing strengths. It may sound strange, but smart managers always know that to place a person or staff a team to avoid weakness will end up at best in mediocrity!

In reality, there are no ‘well-rounded’ people, those with just strengths and no weaknesses. Drucker provides a beautiful analogy when he says, “where there are peaks, there are valleys too.” After all, what a man cannot do is merely a limitation.

Focus on Contribution:

Effective people managers never ask: “How does he get along with me?” Chemistry, of course, is important. But even more important is contribution. Contribution in an organization comes in three areas, viz.,

* Direct results;

* Commitment to Company Values & their constant affirmation; and

* Building & developing people for tomorrow

While every people manager is accountable for all the three, they should expect their individual contributor team members to contribute to the first two. Contribution flows from clearly defined goals and standards for measurement of the goal achievement. Making them clear to the team even before contribution is sought is very important. Equally important is continuous reinforcement of the same.

Focus on making each job big & demanding:

Good managers design or enrich jobs with a view to building sufficient challenge to bring out the best in their people. Particularly in big organizations, there is a tendency to make the jobs small. Drucker brings this out eloquently when he writes: “Every survey of young knowledge workers – physicians in the Army Medical Corps, chemists in the research labs, accountants or engineers in the plant, nurses in the hospital- produces the same results. The ones who are enthusiastic and who, in turn, have results to show for their work, are the ones whose abilities are being challenged and used.”

Focus on moving people to the right jobs:Right Person Right Job

As opportunities present themselves, good people managers move their people to the right jobs that challenge and bring the best out of them. They do not believe in the ‘ indispensable man’ philosophy. It is interesting to see Drucker offer three explanations why some managers may behave and believe in such a philosophy:

* The employee is actually incompetent and can only survive if carefully shielded from demands;

* The employee’s strength is misused to bolster a weak manager who cannot stand on his own two feet; or

* His strength is misused to delay tackling a serious problem if not to conceal its existence.Focus on unleashing talent, and not on reforming people

Great people managers are also known for a distinct approach to managing people and their performance. They do not attempt reforming their team members! They just simply bring their best out. As the Bible tells in the Parable of Talents, the task of a people manager is to multiply performance capacity of the whole by putting to use whatever strength, whatever wealth, whatever aspiration there is in individual!


MaliC. Mahalingam is a leading HR Thought Leader in India. He was Executive Vice-President & Chief People Officer with Symphony Services Corporation and served in organisations like IBM, HP, Phillips, Scandent Technologies etc. He is now a Leadership Coach, HR Strategic Consultant and visiting faculty at some of IIM’s.


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