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Find Your Left Foot

This week, I have the privilege to attend the Association for Talent Development’s Annual Conference and Expo in San Diego. Besides the great weather and amazing food, this conference offers incredible learning and networking opportunities. This was my 5th year attending, and each one has been better than the next.

Monday morning’s keynote was none other than Marcus Buckingham. Marcus spoke about his soon-to-be-published 9 Lies On Work. These 9 Lies are “truths” that believe about work that are simply not true at all. And Marcus has the data to prove it. One of these lies in particular, hit me like a ton of bricks. Lie #4 is that well-rounded people are better at work. He used the story of possibly the best footballer (aka soccer player) in history: Lionel Messi. Being a football fan, as I am, it's awesome to teach a business lesson too.

Messi was born in Argentina, but grew up in the FC Barcelona development program in Spain. From a young age, his prodigious still was apparent. Now, Messi’s dominant foot is his left. And he’s formidable with it. A vast majority (over 80%) of his touches are with his left foot. By traditional coaching theory, that would be labeled a weakness. And he would be told that he needs to work on being more well-rounded and proficient with both feet. We do the same thing with our kids’ report cards, we scan through the A’s and B’s and look for the weak areas that need to be fixed. It’s a hard-wired behavior. We can’t help ourselves.

Fortunately for Messi, and the football world as a whole, his coaches realized that this “weakness” is eclipsed by his superhuman skill with his left foot. So rather than beat him up about his lack of a right foot, they made sure that he is as good as possible with his left. And he’s good. I mean, really good. Watch him single-handedly (or single-footedly, as it were...) take down 5 defenders on his way to a goal.

This case study is a living testament to why being well-rounded is sometimes over-rated. If you’re good at something, and you love doing it, it’s important to continue to build and develop it. That doesn’t mean you should turn your back on areas you can grow and develop. But don’t spend so much time on them, that you ignore what may be your biggest competitive advantage.

We all have a left foot. Both literally and figuratively. It may be an uncanny ability to match the right candidate with the right job. Or it might be the ability to help others begin a meaningful dialogue that can lead to a strong and lasting relationship. Whatever it is, that's your left foot. Nurture it, and make it work for you.

Leaders, this message is important to us as well. Do you have someone on your team that's incredibly strong in some areas, and not as strong in others? Think back to your last performance conversation with them. Where did you spend most of your time? On the strengths, and building them up? Or on the areas they aren't as strong, poking holes in their confidence? Next time you sit down with that person, let's keep the focus on what they are doing well.

The data tells us that growth and development is more readily achieved by using skills that the person already has, to compliment their skills in other areas. Marcus calls these moments strengths replays. And they can be extremely powerful opportunities to grow our people even beyond what they feel is possible. Marcus suggests that the proper ratio is at least 5 strengths replays for every corrective action taken.

We should never stop trying to improve your skills in other areas, being a constantly learning and growing. That's what being a good professional is. But it's okay to not be super strong in every area. That's why teams are made up of multiple people, each with their own unique skill set. Learn to compliment each other, and together you will be a formidable team.

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