I had lunch the other day with a very successful and talented Broadway producer. While he shared with me his latest theatrical endeavors, I was struck by how many different kinds of work he was leading. As CEO of his own portfolio of businesses, he wears many different hats, including producer of musicals, playwright on occasion, investor development, people-leader, Broadway spokesperson, blogger and mentor, strategist, and creative consultant to others in his field. He told me that he had recently taken a big step to bring on a #2 -- a chief operating officer.
When I asked him what the impetus was for this big decision, that would add cost and reduce his control, he said, "I need to focus on putting my talents into what will drive my business forward the best." His Maximizer was definitely showing and it was exciting. He also talked about wanting to be able to spend more time on the inventive and creative activities -- the "what if" scenarios -- and the cool ways to shape the Broadway of the future, drive social media and technology from other industries into Broadway, and help build the Broadway audience of tomorrow. When I probed him more closely, he told me this was the stuff that energized him the most. He was glad to give up the things that de-energized him and that others could do better, and he was willing to abdicate some control in exchange for the freedom to do the "sexy" things that would make his own business and Broadway great.
He mused further about the Broadway field. Many of the actors he encountered had huge amounts of aspiration and desire, along with great ego, confidence, and typically physical beauty. But often, those attributes weren't in sync with the actors' actual talents. Most of them believed they were triple or quadruple threats: singers, dancers, actors, and masters of comic timing. They believed they had it all, which is why they pushed endlessly in pursuit of acting jobs. (This explains many of the hilariously unaware contestants who show up for reality TV shows like American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance, for example.) Too much yearning and not enough talent. In reality, he continued, "actors mostly weren't very aware of their strengths." Despite failed casting calls, they continued on and on for years, "following their yearnings."
As a leader or coach of people (or a Broadway producer, which is a bit of both), it is important to tease out "yearnings" or "aspirations" that aren't in sync with actual talents. I have seen this often in enterprise-based coaching, where top-performing salespeople are promoted to sales managers and then get farther and farther away from what they love and do best: interacting with customers, "hunting sales," and being independent from the corporate bureaucracy. I see it even more often with great individual performers who can do their jobs like nobody's business, but when they are promoted to a manager role, the burden and pressure of accountability for others' success and deliverables weighs them down so much that they find themselves not loving their work anymore. What great people-leaders learn is that it's so critical to understand people's strengths and to connect aspirations and talent when matching people to roles.
As coaches or people-leaders, how can we help people align what they are great at with what they aspire to do? One way is to use regular check-in sessions to help clarify their yearnings. When they say they "want to lead a team," "need more responsibility," or "crave something new to do," probe for the motivation behind it. Are they reacting to recent moves by their peers, or are they reacting to their parents', spouse's, friends', or coworkers' well-meaning suggestions and expectations? Is it really about "money" or the "title"? Or would participation in a high-visibility project, attendance at an international meeting, or the opportunity to train or mentor a newly arrived coworker, satisfy their yearning?
They may be crystal clear on their desired next role, but more often than not, they don't have a clue about the question of "what next?" Start by dissecting their current role. What enticed them to take the role originally? What elements of the job energize them and which parts de-energize them? Do they feel the role allows them to apply their talents and "do their best work every day"? What work do they feel they do better than 10,000 other people? What work would they really miss if they took on another job? This information helps you set the stage and tease out perceptions, nuances, and realities. If you mutually perceive talent and aspiration to be a fit for a specific role ahead, then great! If not, provide clear feedback about where you see a talent-aspiration mismatch and be honest about whether or not further time in a role, additional training and skill acquisition, or other approaches can alter the equation. You'll also need to revisit the aspirations/talent discussion regularly to ensure employees stay engaged while you are helping them architect a satisfying career step that truly fits their aspirations/talents.
Lisa Peterson's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Responsibility, Maximizer, Relator, Achiever and Learner.
Learn more about using CliftonStrengths to help yourself and others succeed: