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Dean was referred to me by his supervisor for coaching to improve his poor performance in his management role at a nonprofit serving developmentally disabled adults. Hired two years earlier as a “job coach,” he had instructed clients in woodworking and gardening, a role in which he both enjoyed and excelled. He was talented with his hands and was well-liked by both clients and colleagues.

Dean’s difficulties started when he was promoted to a management position, which meant he had oversight of the whole building, the clients, and the staff. He told me he was dissatisfied, echoing his supervisor’s assessment that he was not performing well. His new role required fast-paced problem-solving and the ability to multitask. No two days were the same. He was responsible for managing client crises, scheduling employees’ time, covering last-minute callouts, completing enormous amounts of paperwork in a timely manner to ensure state educational and funding mandates were met, overseeing educational planning meetings, reviewing employees’ performance and documentation, and monitoring and maintaining all the physical aspects of the site. It was an enormous job, but he also had the support of upper management who themselves were long-term dedicated employees and were available to him daily. However, Dean’s own efforts and the support, coaching, planning, and problem-solving his bosses offered were not effective.

What was going wrong? We used the Highlands Ability Battery to help answer this question. Dean’s natural style is that of a detailed researcher, working individually, delving into a project or assignment, and then presenting a finished product to the team is preferred. He is naturally inclined to work on projects for extended periods of time. Immediate, short-term tasks hold little meaning for him and drain his motivation. He prefers structured work situations where problem-solving and decisions are made after careful and thoughtful deliberation. The forward-facing, customer service nature of the position, requiring constant client and employee interaction with immediate attention to problems and solutions did not fit with his aptitudes. However, his scores on the spatial relations theory and visualization samples completely support why his initial position was so much better of a fit. Dean is completely comfortable in the physical and structural world, working with tangible objects. In our lengthy discussion, Dean shared his pleasure in building musical instruments, which confirms this innate ability and is a necessary combination for success in design and engineering.

So, what to do? Dean’s original job was no longer available. Was there a way for him to switch to another position? He chose not to explore this and resigned. Points to consider? Excelling at a job doesn’t mean you will excel at the next level up. Managing requires different skills and aptitudes. Position yourself for success by knowing your preferences and your aptitudes. Dean could have invested in higher education to increase his options and opportunities, yet he wasn’t motivated to do this. Perhaps he needed time to recharge? I hope he has found work that fits his personal style and aptitudes. It’s what we all deserve.

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