Appreciating a person’s abilities
When I started my first business, I ended up connecting with a mentor who was to become the second-most influential individual in my professional life (after my father). A big, burly bearded Yorkshire man who taught me two valuable lessons:
1. “Never pick anyone up from the airport in anything other than your helicopter unless it is absolutely necessary.”
2. “Don’t try and teach a pig to sing, it wastes your time and annoys the pig.”
The first lesson has a somewhat limited application as not many of us are in the enviable position of owning our own helicopter, but the second has helped me in a myriad of situations.
Simply translated, it means: find the strengths in people and make sure you play to their abilities — not attack their weaknesses — otherwise you’ll just end up frustrating yourself and them.
Throughout my professional life, I have seen managers try and force individuals into the wrong positions or working environments with serious consequences.
I came to recognize that everyone has their area of expertise and working methods; some people just aren’t comfortable with numbers, some aren’t comfortable with people, some are comfortable in an open office, some work better in a cubicle.
What I teach my children when they are frustrated with a task is that people are good at different things and in different environments. Albert Einstein’s alleged quote: “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid,” is true in the human resource world, too.
There was one person I managed in my first position of responsibility, he was possibly the most intelligent person I have ever known, yet never passed any exam (he barely attended school) and singlehandedly designed an entire remote access router-based I.T. networking system in more than 30 locations (this was almost pre-internet and therefore, even more impressive). But could you get him into the office by 8 a.m? Not a hope!
It took me a while to recognize this, but eventually, instead of forcing him in on time (which resulted in a surly, incommunicative, visibly uncomfortable and frankly, scary, individual), we offered him the option of starting his day at 10 a.m. and leaving a couple of hours after everyone else. Within days, he was happier, more relaxed and as a result — significantly more productive.
It wasn’t only the effect on his professional demeanour which was startling, he became a generally cheerier person; he smiled more and was chattier and more open with co-workers and customers. So, what about this small offer of flexibility had so much impact on him? It can’t just have been the extra hour or so in bed in the morning?
This offer had made him feel appreciated! He felt valued in that we recognized that he was just not made for early mornings. He was Einstein’s metaphorical fish in a tree who needed flexibility in his environment.
So, appreciate people’s innate natural abilities and encourage them. If they are forced into routines and situations that make them uncomfortable, no one wins!
Everyone’s work abilities are different and should be respected as such. Liam has been an entrepreneur and business consultant since he started his first e-commerce business in Spain in 2001. Since then, he has worked around the globe in various markets.