A Good Business A Great Life #6: Management Lessons from Shot Put

by Jack Hayhow on August 8, 2011

When I was in the seventh grade, during our school’s annual track and field day, I was assigned to the shot put event.  That was a bit of a problem.  Back then, I wasn’t what you would call skinny – I was downright scrawny.  I could barely pick up the shot put, let alone heave it across the field.  Let me tell you, I was definitely scrawny but I was scrappy too.  I practiced hard.  The gym teacher worked with me and, day-by-day, I got better.  It hurt and I hated it, but I got better.

After what seemed like an eternity of training, track and field day arrived and I threw the shot put farther than I had ever thrown it.  It was a personal best.  And I came in … dead last.  Thirty-seventh out of thirty-seven boys.  I had worked hard, I had gotten better, and I had gone from poor to just a little less poor.  My immense effort went largely unrewarded.  That’s what happens when the talent doesn’t match the task.

The truth is, many of us have been sold a bill of goods.  It started with Napoleon Hill when he said, “Anything the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”  Which is just plain nonsense.  Think about this:  I can conceive of playing in the NBA, and with enough self-delusion I might even be able to believe it.  But I won’t achieve it because you can’t coach tall … or fast.  In other words, I don’t have the talent.

Talent is the capacity for near perfect performance.  It’s something you’re born with or that develops very early in life.  Talent can be cultivated, but it probably can’t be created.  The good news is, everyone has talent of some kind.  But each of us also has some non-talents – some things we just don’t do very well and probably won’t ever do very well.  (My list of non-talents includes anything requiring a power tool, math past the 8th grade level and throwing the shot put.)

If you want exceptional performance in your company (and who doesn’t?) there are two crucial activities that you and all your managers must engage in.

#1 – Identify the talent of each of your people

#2 – Match that talent with a task that needs to be accomplished

Identifying the talent of subordinates and matching that talent with a task that needs to be accomplished just might be the most important contribution to organizational success a manager can make. A wonderful, if somewhat awkward, question is:

Who Does What Well Around Here?

That question focuses on the right thing – it focuses on talent, on what a person can do.  Far too often, managers are in “cop mode”.  They’re on the lookout for what’s wrong.  Certainly there are times when a manager needs to take corrective action.  But great managers spend a lot of time looking for what’s right with people.  To find out more about what great managers do, spend a few minutes with our free online management development course, The Foundation of Management.

Jack-Hayhow Jack Hayhow is Chief Executive Servant of Opus Communications in Kansas City. Opus provides tools and techniques to help business owners build their business. Jack is also the author of two highly acclaimed business books, The Wisdom of the Flying Pig: Guidance and Inspiration for Managers and Leaders and, Breaking Through the Barrier: What Companies That Grow Do Differently
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