fostering a community of people interested in exploring strengths
I realize the benefits of focusing on strengths, and I most definitely want to do that with my team, but I'm still not clear about a few things. If I'm not supposed to emphasize weaknesses, how do I give my team criticism? Can I talk about weaknesses and poor performance at all, or is that focus going to undermine everything else? Also, if people are supposed to stop doing what weakens them, what do I do if everybody on the team claims to be weakened by a particular part of the job (in our team, it seems to be expense reports).
It's certainly not "forbidden" to discuss weaknesses or poor performance, or to criticize somebody's performance. When we talk about being strengths-focused, we mean focused, not myopic. That is, yes, keep your eyes on strengths, but don't think that you should just ignore weaknesses. Keep in mind, too, that weaknesses are not synonymous with poor performance. Someone could do a great job at something that weakens him. It's about how draining and inefficient a weakness makes people.
So, while it would be nice for everyone to be 100% focused on strengths and 100% efficient, such goals aren't realistic. There are certain things that everybody has to do, whether they like them or not. Perhaps, on your team, expense reports are one such thing. Or perhaps you have one team member who actually likes doing them, and wouldn't mind helping others out with theirs. In that case, perhaps that team member has a weakness that somebody else can pitch in on.
Don't hold out hope for a utopia where nobody has to deal with weaknesses, ever. The goal to aim for is that your team members are all able to play to their strengths most of the time. Helping them use their strengths to address the weaker areas of their jobs is one of the greatest things you can do for them as a manager.
I know I should “check in” occasionally with contacts I’ve made. What’s the best way to do that?
If you’re currently job searching, it’s okay to check in with your contacts once a month. If you’re just trying to stay in touch, drop them a line every six months or so. Approach them by e-mail and say, “Hi! I just wanted to check in and see how everything’s going.” Staying in touch keeps you in the mix so that you’ll come to mind more quickly if they come across something that could benefit you. But it’s not about being mercenary. It’s the genuine relationships you build that really count. And in a genuine relationship, someone doesn’t hear from you only when you need something. Staying in touch allows you to see whether there’s anything you can do to help them, too. It’s not a quid pro quo thing. It’s about authenticity.
Keep in mind that some people prefer to talk in person. To suss out which communication your contact prefers, throw in a line like, “I know you’re busy, but I’d love to take you out for coffee next week if you can get away.” That leaves your contacts a chance to say they can’t if they prefer to stay in touch via e-mail, or to take you up on your offer if they prefer to talk face-to-face.