You've heard it, I'm sure, the US saying 'hire for attitude, train for skills’. The principle is that with the right attitude – positive, keen to learn – even the greatest novice can acquire the skills they need and become valuable members of the workforce.
At the most senior levels this happens all the time; directors switch industries and sectors, trading on their enthusiasm to bring a fresh eye to their new organisation.
Can-doers are easy to spot: hungry and driven, they're puzzled by can't-do colleagues. Some feast on self-belief, while others strive to succeed because they crave external validation. Either way, they jump in up to their necks, expect to swim – and often do!
As Sir Winston Churchill's famously said: "Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.".
But is a can-do attitude really more important than aptitude?
Can-do versus skill
My heart is warmed by bright hungry managers who launch their career with ‘can-do, will do’. They run with their instinct and conquer the new skills they need to progress. This enthusiasm is invaluable – something to champion, harness, and support. Particularly so in the first 100 days of any new challenge, role, or responsibility, when there's a huge need to build relationships, form strong alliances, and achieve some early wins.
But businesses can suffer when there is a lack of guidance – where can-doers are allowed to become gung-ho workers, propelled up the career ladder by little more than morale and confidence.
If you lead a team, department, or business where the attitude is spot on, but competence and skill is lacking, then a strategic, planned, and intentional approach to your can-doers' learning and development will allow you to harness the energy your people bring to the office each day.
Getting the balance right
The best teams use their diversity to great effect; getting the critical balance right between attitude and knowledge is one of the things that makes a team high performing.
So balance is the key.
To help achieve it, our challenge as leaders is to spot and manage the can-doers, and the risks they thrive on, because the can-doer will hunt out all kinds of self-development opportunities. We need to be switched on to what helps (or hinders) the organisation.
Don't get me wrong, I am a committed can-doer – always keen to find ways of solving apparently insurmountable problems, sometimes especially when I have little skill or knowledge of the subject area. But, in taking a team into uncharted waters, I always ensure the learning and development I crave is aligned with business aims and objectives.
Simply put, business success means adopting a strategic approach to people development. Training that does not reflect business-growth issues is a totally scatter-gun investment.
How to harness the power of can-doers
- DO: Get cracking on a training needs analysis (TNA). It will help you match business goals against corporate and individual learning, and also identify the gap between how your business wants to operate, and its current state. You'll end up with a clear picture of hard- and soft-skill requirements.
- DON'T: Be tempted to create a 'team template' or blueprint for your company's L&D based on successful people. It may be less time-consuming than a TNA, but you risk ending up with the business equivalent of Stepford Wives! You'll be in danger of supporting can’t-doers, and suppressing the can-doers who thrive on the very creativity and innovation an organisation needs in order to evolve.
- DO: Channel can-doers' energy. Can-doers need to prove themselves regularly, so manage that determination and focus their energy with a challenging mix of business objectives and personal development.
- DO: Enlist their support. Can-doers are assertive and persuasive. They know they are – or will be – good at what they do, and they instinctively know how to sell themselves. Enlist their support to help endorse key projects or inspire other people.
- DON'T: Forget the quieter members of your team. Can-doers are likely to want the lion’s share of access to your knowledge and experience. So make sure you don’t forget the less demanding people in your team; give them a voice, let them express their concerns, and tackle their anxieties with them, step by step.
A version of this article originally appeared in The Institute of Leadership and Management's Edge Magazine, penned by the inspirational Lyn Bicker.
Over to you
Are you a proud can-doer, or do you manage or lead can-doers? Have you found a way to harness the can-doer zeal, while also making room for those who are more risk averse? Let us know on Twitter if this article resonates with you.
Get strategic with your L&D
Our First 100 days coaching package is an intensive, bespoke series of 1:1 sessions that will help the can-doers in your business set clear intentions and maximise their impact in the first few months of a new challenge. We tailor the learning to your strategic plan and TNA, so you can be confident that the development you invest in supports your business growth. Click here for the full details, and to book your place.
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