The story tells of an interaction between a parent and his high school-age child. The adolescent presents with a report card of four As and one D-. Because of our prejudices and experiences, we the reader are inclined to think the parent is going to either lecture or at least focus on the low grade. We’re fooled. The father applies another strategy with an approach that I think is applicable to leading and managing others, and useful in our own self-management.

The strategy is simple — the father first surprises his offspring by focusing on what is working well rather than what is not and does so in a seemingly objective manner. “I want to talk to you about your grade in English (one of the subjects in which she received an “A”). You can imagine the shock the child felt — like being pulled over by a police officer who only wants to congratulate you on your fine driving skills while you’re reliving the last miles. You feel the anxiety of the student lessen and her ears open, as what she expected is not occurring. We can also picture how many excuses and how much blaming she had already conjured up before entering the room. Now, knowing these are not applicable, how she feels. In a detective-like way, Dad continues by asking detailed questions about all the pro-active and diligent steps the student took to achieve the high grade. Our scholar is happy to reply she developed a student/teacher relationship with her teacher, was on time and on task with each assignment; she spoke of creating a study group and asking for extra help — all excellent behaviors and a recipe for success. Each question helped the student to come to her own conclusion and, of course, one the parent believes to be the solution.

Finally comes the turning point — the same questions are asked about her efforts in the subject where she received the poor grade. It is then that attempts to use the excuses and blaming fail. They now sound weak by comparison with the excellent results achieved in the other subjects. There are only limited conclusions anyone could come to, the best being, “Maybe I should apply what worked to the areas I am struggling in, not just to those I like or find easy.”

Here’s a simple example of how I use this technique to work for me. Whenever I am presented with a project or client that I think will be troublesome, rather than focus on all the things that could go wrong (and believe me, I have a vivid and deep imagination), I try to find something similar that worked out just fine. Let’s say I engage a particularly argumentative person. Maybe he or she is unrealistically demanding or in a work situation that is not in my experience bank, so we have to delve. I try to get into the success mindset — reliving things that went right with this individual or others, and attempting to tailor to the situation at hand. It prevents the spiraling negativity that focusing on what is going wrong always seems to foster. It is also coach-like behavior. In addition, I avoid power struggles that might breed when two people discuss “how bad something is or isn’t” and “who are you to judge me?” More often than not it works.

The story also helped me observe my own behavior when faced with projects. Invariably I find I do all the right steps, in the correct order, when I either like or find a project easy. However, give me something out of my comfort zone, in contrast to my temperament, or not my obvious skill set, I invariably first go to a simple solution or quick fix. Then I’m amazed when it isn’t enough or doesn’t work at all. Only when I play to my strengths and use a tried and true process can I settle down and attack the work. It relieves me to use my brain-power for the more creative aspects of the work rather than the tedium. I must admit it’s not always easy because we all like to avoid discomfort and want things over or shelved as fast as possible, but when applied the approach does work.

So here are my takeaways:

  1. Know your strengths in definable, measurable terms. Name them.
  2. Attempt to use top skills in as many situations, at work and home, as possible. Make them your default.
  3. Continue to build muscle in these success areas -- learn more, do more always with the goal of enhancement.
  4. Admit you are not good at certain things and do not like many tasks, even though you are actually quite talented in the area. Take the inventory.
  5. Assume you can apply A+ talents to D- projects.
  6. Try and apply No. 5 to a really tough challenge and don’t let go until you finish.
  7. Motivate people and give them a roadmap for success rather than dwell on failure.
  8. Catch them doing something right when they think you are only auditing for wrong.

Starting with our strengths and the talents of others insures future success and reduces time and effort in those areas where desired outcomes had not occurred. It’s a matter of approach to self and another that once learned and applied can reap many rewards and reduce stress.

(c) Jane Cranston.

Author's Bio: 

Jane Cranston is an executive career coach. She works with success-driven executives, managers and leaders to reach their potential, better manage their boss and staff, as well as develop a career strategy to reach goals and aspirations. Jane is the author of Great Job in Tough Times a step-by-step job search system. Click here to subscribe to her twice monthly Competitive Edge Report.