I used to work in downtown DC. I managed a great team with such a fun mix of people, personalities, and convictions. I loved that team!
One person on the team was especially one of conviction! He was a great guy. Tom saw through anything and everything, and he definitely had an opinion on it. I could pitch our next steps to the team, and if Tom didn’t like it, he could swing the mood and direction of the room in 10 seconds flat. All of a sudden, the team was demotivated and disenfranchised. Then I had the honor of trying to re-motivate, re-corral, and re-direct 15 people towards our goal. It was exhausting.
Needless to say, I needed to figure out what to do about Tom. He was older than I was. He had been at the company longer than I had been. And he wasn’t ‘management,’ so employees viewed him as more ‘credible’ – you know how it is.
I was pondering and praying one day about what to do about Tom. He certainly added a unique dynamic to the team. But how in the world do I corral this dynamic to help him be a valuable member of the team? One who helps rally us towards our goal instead of a derailing us from it?
The Lord was gracious to bring a thought to mind.
A weakness is often a strength taken to an extreme.
You see, we were in sales. The fact that Tom had the ability to sway an entire room in a matter of seconds is an asset in sales ~ a huge asset! His ability to influence others so dramatically - if channeled properly - could truly make him a powerhouse. There was an incredible talent underlying all of this. I just needed to figure out how to direct that talent differently. If I could help him change his application of his talent – wow! It could really impact our team dynamic in a great way, and it could help set his career on a valuable path.
So how do I go about this? I started by pulling Tom aside for a friendly talk. And I’m not saying that facetiously ~ it really was friendly! I wanted to better understand if he was aware of his strength and was intentionally derailing the group.
So we chatted. In the course of conversation, I pointed out this strength that he had in his ability to sway a room. It really was an impressive strength. I mentioned several instances – in a kind light – where it had occurred.
He was intrigued. He had no idea of this ability of his and his impact on the team. It was kind of a revelation for him. He wasn’t derailing things intentionally.
That was good news. Motives are important. They definitely influence whether my next steps are instructions or consequences. So I proceeded trying to frame this whole concept:
A weakness is often a strength taken to an extreme.
I told him how valuable his gift can be – in the right context. And I explained the impact that his comments can have at times to sway the mood of a room in a demotivating way. I shared with him the influence that he has simply because of who he is – the oldest, most tenured person on our team, and, well, not management. I concurred with him that, in all honesty, sometimes his comments are exactly right. Sometimes I don’t really understand or totally agree with why our team has been told to do something. And in those moments, we can do this thing with which we don’t fully agree joyfully or begrudgingly. Since we already have to do something we don’t want to do, well, let’s try to at least make it enjoyable! And sometimes his comments helped me see some wisdom I hadn’t seen.
My next step was potentially risky and perhaps not how all managers would do it. But I thought it would work for Tom. So I asked him to team with me:
“You have a great mind in how you think through things. And you have a great talent in your ability to sway the room. I need you to team with me to help rally this team forward.”
I laid out the plan:
“So this is what I’m going to do. Before we go into a team meeting, I’m going to try to swing by and talk with you. If you have questions, concerns, or frustrations, I want to know them. You bring up good points, so I want your insight if I’ve missed something. And if it’s a situation where, well, we just need to do what we need to do, I need you to respect that. Then when we walk into our team meetings, I need you to use your strength of influencing others to help rally our team forward.”
And I tried to preempt anything that could derail the plan:
“I’m going to do my best to anticipate your concerns. But there may be a time when I failed to anticipate something. Or there may be a time when I get our marching orders and have to go straight into a team meeting, and I don’t have the time to talk with you. I need you in those moments to still team with me. I need you to trust me, to do your best to rally the team forward, and to talk with me afterwards about your concerns.”
He just sat there.
And I waited.
It seemed like a really long time. What was he thinking?
Then he said,
“Is this what you do?”
“Uh-oh,” I thought. “This isn’t going as planned.”
“You just bring people in here and butter them up?”
PHEW!!! Oh I just wanted to laugh! I certainly didn’t anticipate that response to my correcting him for derailing and demotivating our team.
“Ok. I think this has been good,” I thought.
So that’s how Tom and I worked.
How did it all work out? Well, in all honesty, it didn’t take many side conversations. I stopped by a few times, but we ended up in lock-step pretty quickly. He was a great asset to the team and began to really be a team leader.
A weakness is often simply a strength taken to an extreme.
The Lord helped me respect Tom and how He’d wired him. And ultimately, with a gentle redirect, he was such a blessing and a gift to me and to the team.