There’s a joke about a salesman who is driving along the highway and sees a sign, “Talking Dog for Sale.” He rings the bell and the owner tells him the dog is in the back yard. He goes into the back yard and sees a mutt sitting there.
“You talk?” he asks.
“Yep,” the mutt replies.
“So, what’s your story?”
The mutt looks up and says, “When I discovered this gift I was pretty young and wanted to help the government. So I told the CIA about my unique talent and in no time they had me jetting from country to country, sitting in rooms with spies and world leaders, because no one figured a dog would be eavesdropping. I was one of their most valuable spies eight years running.
“But the jetting around really tired me out, and I knew I wasn’t getting any younger and I wanted to settle down. So I signed up for a job at the airport to do some undercover security work, mostly wandering near suspicious characters and listening in. I uncovered some incredible dealings there and was awarded a batch of medals. Had a wife, a mess of puppies, and now I’m just retired.”
The salesman is amazed and asks the farmer what he wants for the dog. The farmer says, “Ten dollars.”
The guy says he’ll buy him, but asks the owner, “This dog is amazing. He’s worth a fortune. Why on earth are you selling him for only $10?”
The owner replies, “Because he’s a liar.”
Everyone is talented, original, and has something to offer the workplace where they are employed. The problem is that most people treat themselves and their employees like this old farmer treats his talking dog. We are so focused on the weakness and fixated on fixing that weakness that we completely miss the talents and the strengths and wonder why our employee engagement scores are so low.
The poet William Blake said, “He who knows not his own genius has none.” Leadership is, in large part, helping people discover – and unleash – their genius. Fit people; don’t fix people.
Here are five ways to tap into the genius in yourself and others:
- Look for people’s strengths: What you focus on is what grows. Start asking three simple questions of every one of your employees. Start to have the conversations. Give some feedback. Listen.
- What are your strengths?
- What do you do better here than anyone else?
- What is unique about you?
- Invest in a formal inventory to discover your strengths and help others discover theirs. The best inventory I have found is: gallupstrengthscenter.com
- Track your energy. What energizes you? What depletes you? What fills you up? What’s working for you? What’s not? Today, it’s not about time management; it’s about energy management. Your energy level is a great indicator of how aligned you are to your genius.
- Delegate your weakness – at least whenever possible. Chances are, there is somebody in your organization that is good at what you aren’t. Talk it up. Discuss where you can pass on your weakness to somebody who has it as a strength.
- Let go of perfection. It’s unrealistic to expect that a hundred percent of your job be in your area of genius. What’s important is that at least a percentage of what you do is what you are great at. This is where the inspiration and the engagement lie. Keep working toward increasing the circle of strength and the time your employees spend there, and watch how engagement and productivity start to substantially increase.