Why Leaders Should Focus on Strengths, Not Weaknesses

Ahmed Othman

Software Engineering Manager at Zalando



When I first took a team's responsibility, some of the team members were struggling with their career development. At the same time, I had to do performance evaluations for all of my team members. As a manager, when I do performance evaluation for one of my team members, I evaluate them based on their contributions/impact, strengths, and development areas. Then follow up on this by setting up a development talk in which I discuss with them how to improve their performance in the next year. The mistake I made was to sit and talk to each of them regarding only their development areas and how to improve on them and try to solve the aspects they were facing trouble with.

To my disbelief, this caused a lot of stress among the team members. I realized this after my first evaluation round and how anxious my teammates were. Besides, talking about their development plan and asking them to work on their weaknesses did somewhat damage the overall team productivity. Slowly and steadily, we noticed that our team members were becoming stressed out and demoralized, which was alarming.

Actions taken

Firstly, I used a positive language and focused on their strengths and how to utilize them rather than asking them to work on their weaknesses and tried to bring the best in that person. How? For instance, if someone was a better communicator than acquiring strong technical skills, I assigned them projects that aligned best with their skill sets. In that way, my team members were more engaged and motivated in doing work that fell right into their wheelhouse. Therefore, it then became a requirement for our team to keep the performance and productivity high.

Moving forward, I understood the motivation of each team member. It is very important to know what motivation looks like for each team member. While some get motivated through financial compensation, others just want a little more appreciation for their work; you need to figure it out. Sometimes it is not enough to check things off a list and tell them that they have done their part to inspire the company. As a leader, tweaking the process and surprising your team members, just like you would surprise your customers, can do the trick.

Finally, talking to my team members about how I could help and support them. For example, I discussed every possible way to help my team members further develop their skill sets which they like to develop. I openly asked them if they were interested in taking new training courses or attending conferences that would help them grow which eventually will help them progress towards the team /company goals. Ensuring the team members that I’m willing to support them any time with all the resources I have to help them grow was a motivating factor in itself. This worked wonderfully in succeeding them with future projects.

Lessons learned

  • During the development talks, try not to be in the driver’s seat. As the manager, you are responsible for helping and supporting as much as possible. Putting too much from your side may come off as an interference.
  • Try not to take action or solve anything without fully understanding the problem. Always understand what is the root cause of the problem before jumping to conclusions.
  • Instead of giving instructions on how to do something, ask your team members how to do it. Embrace open communication and new ideas as it creates an upfront environment, leading to trust among teammates and managers.

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Ahmed Othman

Software Engineering Manager at Zalando

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationFeedback TechniquesCareer GrowthCareer ProgressionSkill DevelopmentIndividual Contributor RolesEngineering ManagerLeadership & StrategyTeam & Project Management

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