Select Page

Leadership expert John Maxwell tells an illuminating story about his high school basketball team.

One typical afternoon, Maxwell showed up to basketball practice.

The coach announced that the first-string would play against the second-string.

Maxwell, being a first string-player, proudly walked onto the court envisioning how badly they were going to beat the second-string.

But today the coach wanted to teach them all a valuable life lesson.

As the players gathered on the court, the coach announced that all the first-string players would have to play positions they didn’t normally play. Suddenly the tallest player was a 3-point shooter, and the shortest player was assigned to be the center (the rebounder).

You can guess what happened.

The second-string demolished the first string, and walked away victorious.

The BIG Idea—A team of highly talented players in the wrong positions won’t live up to their potential, and may not succeed at all.

As few as 2 in 10 people may be working in a strength zone

Several years ago, the Gallup Organization did a well-known meta-analysis (combining several studies) with 198,000 employees at 36 companies. They concluded that only about 2 out of every 10 employees is working in an area of strength! That’s pretty dismal.

As a leader, you need to keep this in mind.

If you don’t know your team member’s strengths and haven’t intentionally looked for ways to match them with projects or jobs that play to their skills, there is an 80% chance you are not utilizing them to their full potential. Worse yet, your team members may currently be unfulfilled or in the process of burning out.

And it’s your job to know this.

Here is a vitally important question Gallup has been asking people for years—At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?

Leaders need to ask their people this question—repeatedly.

Astoundingly, Gallup’s research shows that employees who take their test and then use their strengths at work are:

  • 8x more productive
  • 3x as likely to have an excellent quality of life
  • 6x as likely to be fully engaged at work

What could your company accomplish if your team members were 8x more productive?!

It’s the leader’s job to identify the strengths of the players

Most people do not discover their strengths on their own, and a primary job of any leader is to help their people get to know themselves better. A great starting point is reflecting back to people what they do well—where they thrive.

No one likes to work in an area of weakness for a prolonged period of time. Sure, you can learn a lot from jobs you hate, but that doesn’t mean you should spend 30 years there.

Think of the last time you had a job that was a terrible match for your skills or passions.

It’s a recipe for disengagement, low motivation, and burnout.

There is a reason why Monday has the most statistical absences—Sunday night rolls around and people dread coming in. I’ve been there.

For me, that job was Surf and Skate. If you grew up in Sacramento, you might get a good laugh out of this. I love board sports, and this was widely considered about the coolest job for anyone at my high school.

However, the primary job was sales—which I was horrible at—and hated. This apparently irritated my boss who didn’t see me selling anything, and gave me great anxiety on my drive to work!

On the other hand, when you put people in their strength zones, the following things happen:

  • People want to come to work
  • You dramatically lower your odds of burning people out
  • Absenteeism and turnover go down (research shows work stress is a huge cause of health-related absences)
  • Motivation and employee engagement shoots up
  • Team morale goes up because people know their role and unique contribution to the larger mission
  • Your results as a leader improve
  • Profits go up
  • Your fulfillment as a leader goes up because you get to see people thriving

Moving someone from a position they hate to a job that they are passionate about, and good at, is life changing for the employee, and transformative for the organization.

That’s a no brainer.

Turn information into action

  1. Make it a priority to identify the strengths of your team members. I recommend you use CliftonStrengths assessment online (it’s based on research, it’s $20 bucks for your top 5 strengths and takes about 15 minutes—I have no relationship with Gallup). By the way, if you don’t know your own strengths clearly, take it yourself first! And never assume that your team knows what their strengths are. There is a big difference between vaguely knowing what you are good at, versus intentionally scheduling those activities regularly.
  2. Have conversations about strengths. Don’t get stuck thinking you have to do an assessment. Just start by meeting with your team members and asking people what they think they do well. Then tell them what you notice they have done well and get their impressions. Just start somewhere! Make sure you pay attention to their energy and excitement levels during the conversation. Also make sure you find out what their dreams and goals are. If you put people in jobs that match their long-term dreams, it’s a surefire way to have happier and fully-engaged team members.
  3. If you are considering firing someone, take some time to consider whether you could try them out in other roles first. Besides, if you move them into a few different jobs and they still don’t succeed, your conscience is clear when you help them move on to another company. It might even be really helpful for them in getting to a job that is better suited for their skills and passions!

 Have a great weekend!


*If you have enjoyed Parker’s blog, check out The Next Peak Podcast that Parker co-hosts. We interview successful leaders and discuss research-based principles that help people win in the workplace without compromising the things that matter most—relationships, a life of purpose, and health.

Suggested resources

  1. CliftonStrengths Assessment  (scroll way down for the $19.99 version)
  2. The 360 Degree Leader- John Maxwell (page 237 to 241)
Dr. Parker Houston

Parker Houston

Dr. Parker Houston is a board-certified Organizational Psychologist and Leadership Performance Coach. His personal mission is to improve the way people live and work by helping them apply science-based strategies for personal, family, and workplace leadership—in that order. *Opinions expressed are the author's own.
Get the latest posts delivered to your inbox

Get the latest posts delivered to your inbox

Subscribe to receive the latest news and updates.

You have Successfully Subscribed!