Playing to your strengths as a leader doesn’t make you a good manager. Here’s why.
Of all the tips to be a good manager, “leaning into your strengths” has got to be one of the most frequently cited.
“Do what you’re good at. Focus on your strengths.” That’s the conventional advice we all receive. There’s no shortage of StrengthsFinders assessments and personality tests urging us to triangulate which strengths we should zoom in on.
However, I recently had a conversation with Peldi Guilizzoni, CEO of Balsamiq, on The Heartbeat. His insight on this topic turned my head sideways… in a good way. Peldi asserted:
“Doing what you’re good at hurts the team.”
Huh? Let me explain.
Peldi admitted to me that he’s good at getting stuff done. He makes things happen. He thinks he’s killing it. But as a CEO, 10 years in, should he really the one doing all the doing?
After a decade running his business, Peldi noticed he’d created an environment where his coworkers were depending on him to get things done. If he takes a vacation – he leaves them hanging. If he has to be out for a week – they’re stuck.
“What I realized is that I should stop myself from doing things I’m good at — which is so counterintuitive — and instead, focus on delegating training and making sure that everybody gets good at doing those things.”
Doing what he was good at was hurting his team, not helping.
I could relate.
I’m good at communicating. So I do it internally. A lot. I write-up about what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, a new approach I’m thinking about, a new concept we should try… But, when I take a step back, it’s a bit too much. We’re a tiny, two-person company. For our size, all that communicating is overkill. I could easily spend some of that same time somewhere else in the business and have it be more meaningful.
For both Peldi and I, our predisposition became a preoccupation. We’re good at it, so we automatically assumed it was good for our team.
Whenever you’re good at something, you don’t objectively assess its effectiveness as you should. You apply less of a discerning eye. You know you’re good at it, so you figure the more you do of it, the better.
But as with anything, repeated actions without rigorous judgment become lazy and reckless. And naturally, they have unintended consequences.
Now avoiding this pitfall is hard.
No one is going to stop you. Rarely do others have the temerity to stay, “What you’re good at is bad for the team.” Plus, doing what you’re good at is fun. It’s inherently satisfying to flex your strengths. Who wants to not feel that way?
So, you have to ask yourself: Are your actions feeding your team, or your ego?
Focus on what you’re good at, and the team never becomes good at it themselves. Focus on what you’re good at, and you never see things for what they really are.
Resist viewing your strengths as the only way to make the team strong. Resist falling in love with the short-term results of doing what feels good to be doing.
Pause. Don’t be so busy. Take stock. Why are you doing those things? Because you like doing them? Because you’re good at them? Or because it’s the best way to move the team forward?
Find someone who will tell you the truth. Your co-founder, your coworkers. Ask them if what you’re doing that you’re good at is really helping move the team forward.
This truth-seeking takes 10 minutes to do. Start today. And stop doing what you’re good at, all the time.
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Claire is the CEO of Know Your Team – software that helps you become a better manager. Her company was spun-out of Basecamp back in 2014. If you were interested, you can read more of Claire’s writing on leadership on the Know Your Team blog.
3 thoughts on “Leaders, doing what you’re good at hurts your team.”
So should DHH stop coding and have Jason donthst instead?
Should Jason stop designing and DHH do that instead?
That’s a great point, Albert!
It’s my understanding they’ve empowered their team to be able to code and design without them having to be there.
Claire’s message here (and thank you for bringing it over from Medium as well, Claire!) is mostly about delegation and how hard and important it is to do that.
It’s very easy to not properly delegate things one is good at, but you also don’t have to necessarily stop doing it. It will depend a lot on the team size and structure.
I relate this idea and concept to one I have of making myself “unrequired” (nothing should stop being done if I’m not around).
I hope that makes sense.
I think it becomes much clearer if you seperate your tasks into roles: entrepreneur – manager – specialist worker
1. you should be doing entrepreneur stuff and that should be what you are best at
2. you should delegate as much management stuff as possible
3. you should not be doing specialist work at all
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