We don’t really talk about playing to other’s strengths. But as leaders, that is what we must do. It is that ability to think like someone else and to understand his strengths and weaknesses that makes a good leader. But knowing how far to stretch people and when to bolster their abilities is a delicate dance. When we focus too much on putting people ‘out of their comfort zones’ or creating ‘developmental plans’ is when we basically create a negative environment, no matter how positively we try to spin it (“I’m here to help you get better”).
Cue the “Steady Eddie”: the guy that comes to work every day to do the same job and goes home happy about it, that supervisor that has been a supervisor for 20 years and doesn’t really want that management job, that person that does a good job day in and day out. This person usually has no desire to move out of his current role, nor does he care too much about changing things up. There is usually a small sense company loyalty closely knit to a sense of entitlement.
My thought is that every leader can use a good Steady Eddie. Steady Eddie is a guy from whom you can learn the technical aspects of the job. Steady Eddie usually has the respect of his team simply because of his knowledge of the job. Steady Eddie knows crap when he smells it and can give you a perspective of the culture (although it can be a tainted one, so be prepared to take it with a grain of salt). Steady Eddie is also the guy that can train future leaders on the how-to’s.
However, don’t expect stellar performance from Steady Eddie. Usually he is happy to go home as soon as the day is done and he doesn’t want to step out of his comfort zone very often. That’s manageable, however, since you aren’t expecting him to grow leaps and bounds. Steady Eddie can be the constant in the department, but that also can mean a resistance to change. This is usually accompanied with statements like “well we used to do it like this and I don’t know why we ever stopped” or “we’ve tried that and it didn’t work”.
In today’s society we often discount Steady Eddie and say that if he can’t change then we don’t need him. He is so knowledgeable we expect him to take on more work and be a natural leader. But understand that you can test the waters and see if Eddie is willing to do these things. If not, it doesn’t mean that he can’t be a part of the team, but that his growth is limited and that change will come more slowly for him. This is when you play to Steady Eddie’s strengths, that is when you will see Eddie stand up to the plate and hit a homer while most days he is a base hit. Give Eddie something in his wheelhouse and watch him work. You will get a good job done quickly. Put him too far out of the comfort zone and Eddie will suffer, and so will your team.