Play To Your Strengths (The Leader’s Serenity Prayer)

Originally published on forbes.com.

The role of stretching is often overlooked in the process of growth.

When you’re strength training and you lift weights, it stresses your muscles, which triggers the growth process. But if you neglect to stretch afterward, your muscles shorten and become tight, which leads to them becoming weaker, not stronger, and causes damage to your joints and muscles.

When leading, it is inevitable that your teams will be stressed at one point or another. Leveraging your team through those stresses, and stretching properly between stresses, is as important to your team’s success as stressing your muscles and stretching them are in strength training.

There is a lot of literature about how to move away from leading while you’re perpetually under stress. I’m not going to talk about that here. I’d like to discuss how to get the most out of your team when you are functioning under stress and how to stretch in between stresses.

When I’m in stretch mode, that’s when I explore — be it a new technology or way of running things — and let my team explore. To be completely honest, this is what I do with most of my evenings and weekends as well. Exploring doesn’t mean wasting time. Rather, it means giving people the opportunity to get out of their comfort zones, which, as they say, is where all the good stuff happens.

By stretching, I was able to implement version control with our codebase (you have to start somewhere). I was able to build private development environments instead of having our developers share a development server. I updated our servers to run better, faster and more secure infrastructure. As a team, we’ve trained in and implemented all the best parts of ES6 and PHP7+. We’ve explored better project management processes. We’ve waged a battle on spaghetti code, implemented unit testing and added new frameworks like ReactJS.

If we had allowed ourselves to be pushed into perpetual stress, we wouldn’t have any of this, and our company would be worse off for it.

When you can stretch, that is the time to for encouraging growth, exploring new open source libraries, and making sure all your foundations are solid. Does everyone on your team know how classes work in ES6? This is what you can look forward to when you start your campaign to move away from living in a state where you’re perpetually chasing the urgent issues.

Then there’s the stress…

When you’re in stress mode, your team will grow, but your team needs to perform at its highest levels and play to its strengths. All hands on deck.

What do I mean by that?

If one member of your team is much better at CSS — even if you need all your team members to be proficient in CSS — now is the time to rely on that team member specifically for all your CSS needs. Now is not the time to cultivate weak or latent skills.

During your stressful periods, you’ll see that some of your team members grow into roles. But just as you don’t try a new powerlifting stance when you’re competing to break a record at the gym, you shouldn’t be seeking out hidden talents when you’re in stress mode at work. If these talents reveal themselves, so be it — otherwise, tap from the existing wells.