Aug 10

Tom Brady Can’t Block

I often get weird looks from managers when I tell them that their individual team member weaknesses are not very important.  I’m usually asked, often with a touch of snark, “How am I supposed to help people improve if we don’t work on their weaknesses?”

It was an interesting question the first time I heard it, and I struggled to explain my position until I saw a highlight on ESPN one day of Tom Brady at practice.  It clicked when I realized that Brady focuses his efforts on what he’s good at:  throwing the ball.  His coaches understand that Brady doesn’t become an asset by focusing on his weakness, he becomes an asset to the team by focusing on his strengths (as do the rest of the players on the field).  Imagine the waste of time it would be to work on blocking with Brady!

When people do something they are good at, they are happier, more efficient, and more willing to take risks.  Having a team comprised of experts in their functional areas, with their own unique sets of skills that backup and complement each other is the most successful way to operate.  Those are the groups that get excited when a leader presents them with a challenge that pushes the limits of their capabilities instead of listing a million reasons why they won’t succeed.

If Tom Brady was a pretty good passer, a decent blocker, a good runner, and could catch a pass, he wouldn’t be MORE valuable, he actually wouldn’t be in the NFL at all (let alone one of the greatest players in the history of the game).  What is special about Brady is not that he’s well rounded, quite the opposite actually.

“Ok, well what about within his position as QB?  Shouldn’t we be working on his weaknesses within the position?”

Kind of, but not really.  Even within the position, you want to build your plays around the strengths of your players.  An offense with a quarterback that can run the ball looks much different than an offense with a quarterback who is an excellent pocket passer.  A quarterback that can read defenses well should be given the authority to call audibles on the line.  Great coaches know how to play to the strengths of their players, we should absolutely be doing the same thing in business.

This has several implications:

  1. It shifts the responsibility of performance on the leader
  2. It requires leaders to intimately know the capabilities of every team member
  3. It requires leaders to place team members in the right jobs

So stop focusing on the weaknesses of your employees and start focusing on their strengths.  Play to those strengths, give them responsibilities that allow them to shine at what they’re good at.  Encourage them to improve upon their strengths, by taking classes or pursuing challenges that mesh well with their premiere skills.  Let them know what they are really good at and how they can mold a career around their strengths.  Let your peers know how best to use the assets on your team.  Be an advocate, a coach, a mentor, a leader, and you, your team, and your business will all succeed.



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