Monday, October 3, 2011

Why Can't I Find What I'm Looking For?

Photo by Henry McLin

Some birds have a fascinating ability to see certain food at certain times and ignore other sources. It's called search image and it works like this: if grasshoppers are abundant, the bird forms an image for grasshoppers and will actually ignore other perfectly edible food sources. This search image ensures that the bird efficiently finds what it's looking for. The disadvantage is that it only finds what it's looking for.

As leaders and managers, we often do the same thing. We form images of what we expect to find, then we go out looking for it and, guess what? We find it.

Too often, we look only for things that are wrong, for problems, or for weaknesses in people. And we find them...every single time.

Effective leaders manage their "search image" - they intentionally look for people's strengths, help team members build on those strengths, and position people to work from their strengths.

Einstein once said, "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."

We can have so much more positive impact on the world if we take time to make sure fish are in water, encourage them in their swimming, and don't expect them to climb a tree. If we need a tree climbed, better to find a squirrel - but we have to be on the lookout for those strengths as well.

When it comes to your team members, what is your "search image"? How can you become intentional about looking for strengths?

David M. Dye

PS: My apologies to Bono and U2 (and my daughter) for misquoting their lyrics in the title.

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Twitter: @davidmdye
David shares twenty years experience teaching, coaching, leading, and managing in youth service, education advocacy, city governance, and faith-based nonprofits. He currently serves as Chief Operating Officer for Colorado UpLift and enjoys helping others discover and realize their own potential.

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