I’ve heard experts debate the various factors required to develop a competitive advantage in the market place. To my way of thinking, in today’s world—when every innovation shows up on YouTube within seconds and every clever idea can be copied and improved upon within minutes—there is only one true competitive advantage any organization can hope to leverage. That is the talent and motivation of its people.
Most of us go about developing people backwards. We find competencies that are deficits for people and work to improve them. That’s like taking a person who has failed math and trying to turn him into a calculus professor!
I am a huge believer in developing my people and supporting their growth. However, I am also a disciple of the Pat Reilly School of coaching.
For those of you who aren’t basketball fans, Pat Reilly is a Hall of Fame coach who coached the Los Angeles Lakers to three NBA championships. His Lakers earned the nickname “Showtime.” They were truly poetry on the hardwood.
The Lakers were led by graceful, athletic, skilled players such as Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Kareem-Abdul Jabbar. Watching the Lakers play was almost like watching ballet. It was elegant and precisely orchestrated.
But perhaps Reilly’s greatest coaching job was how he transformed the New York Knicks. (It’s a team I root for, which like all the teams I root for, unfortunately never wins anything!) When Reilly came to the Knicks, they weren’t thoroughbreds like the Lakers had been. They were plow horses! Reilly inherited big, strong, slow, tough players. Instead of Johnson, Worthy and Jabbar, he had a roster that featured Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason.
What Reilly did in coaching the Knicks was impressive. He kept the basic principles that had made him successful, but he tailored his approach to his talent. If you have Shaquille O’Neil on your team, you wouldn’t ask him to shoot three-pointers—or foul shots, for that matter! Instead, you would put him under the basket and have him dunk whenever possible.
How many of us try to turn the people who work for us into something they are incapable of becoming?
When I took on my first CIO role, I was told that I had to let almost everyone go because they didn’t have what it took to succeed. Truth be told, they were simply miscast. Many of the people who were thought to not have what it takes were still with me years later and were very successful in their roles.
My approach to employees is to find out what people do best and then give them opportunities to spend more of their time doing those things. Yes, I will work to help them enhance areas that may be critical deficits, but I spend more time letting them play to their strengths.
When people do what they do best, they succeed. When they do what they struggle at, they fail. It’s not exactly rocket science.
Larry Bonfante is an award-winning CIO with 35 years of experience in the IT industry. As the founder of CIO Bench Coach, he has served as an executive coach and trusted adviser to executives at some of the most prestigious companies in the world. You can contact him on email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @bonfante.[email protected]