The effective executive builds on strengths – their own strengths, the strengths of superiors, colleagues, subordinates; and on the strengths of the situation
– Peter Drucker, The Effective Executive
“While there are many good levers for engaging people and driving performance – levers such as selecting for talent, setting clear expectations, praising where praise is due, and defining the team’s mission – the master lever is getting each person to play to his strengths. Pull this lever, and an engaged and productive team will be the result. Fail to pull it, and no matter what else is done to motivate the team, it’ll never fully engage. It will never become a high-performance team”.
These strong unequivocal words are by Marcus Buckingham, from his book Go Put Your Strengths to Work. Maybe he should know having made the cause of great performance the course of his life. Through the next few lines, I would bring you copious excerpts from his book, Go Put Your Strengths to Work and the book he co-authored Now, Discover Your Strengths.
Misguided by Weakness
The world is grown so bad, that wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch. Guided by the belief that good is the opposite of bad, mankind has for centuries pursued its fixation with fault and failing. Doctors have studied diseases in order to learn about health. Psychologists have investigated sadness in order to learn about joy.
Therapists have looked into causes of divorce in order to learn about happy marriage. And in schools and workplaces around the world, each one of us has been encouraged to identify, analyze, and correct our weaknesses in order to become strong.This advice is well intended but misguided. Faults and failings deserve study, but they reveal little about strengths.
Strengths have their own patterns.To excel in your chosen field and to find lasting satisfaction in doing so, you will need to understand your unique patterns. You will need to become an expert at finding and describing and applying and practicing and refining your strengths.
The Strengths Revolution
At the heart of this strength revolution is a simple decree: The great organization must not only accommodate the fact that each employee is different, it must capitalize on these differences. It must watch for clues to each employee’s natural talents and then position and develop each employee so that his or her talents are transformed into bona fide strengths. By changing the way it selects,measures, develops and channels the career of its people, this revolutionary organization must build its entire enterprise around the strength of each person.The simplest explanation is that most organisations’ basic assumptions about people are wrong. Most organisations are built on two flawed assumptions about people:
- Each person can learn to be competent in almost anything.
- Each person’s greatest room for growth is in his or her areas of greatest weakness.
Presently so baldy, these two assumptions seem too simplistic to be commonly held, so let’s play them out and see where they lead. If you want to test whether or not your organization is based on this assumptions look for these characteristics:
Your organization spends more money on training people once they are hired than on selecting them properly in the first place.
Your organization focuses the performance of its employees by legislating work style. This means a heavy emphasis on work rules, policies, procedures, and “behavioural competences”.
Your organization spends most of its training time and money on trying to plug in employees’ skills or competencies. It calls these gaps “areas of opportunity.”Your individual development plan, if you have one, is built around your “areas of opportunity,”your weaknesses.
Your organization promotes people based on skills or experiences they have acquired. After all, if everyone can learn to be competent in almost anything, those who have learned the most must be the most valuable. Thus, by design, your organization gives the most prestige, the most respect, and the highest salaries to the most experienced well-rounded people.
What Revolutionary Managers Do
To break out of this weakness spiral and to launch the strengths revolution in your own organization, you must change your assumption about people. Start with the right assumptions, and everything else that follows from them – will be right. These are the two assumptions that guide the world’s greatest managers:
- Each person’s talents are enduring and unique.
- Each person‘s greatest room for growth is in the area of his or her greatest strength.
These two assumptions are the foundation of everything they do with and for their people. These two assumptions explain why great managers are careful to look for talents in every role, why they focus on people’s performances on outcomes rather than forcing them into a stylistic mold, why they disobey the Golden Rule and treat each employee differently, and why they spend most time with their best people. In short, these two assumptions explain why the world’s best managers break all the rules of conventional management wisdom.
Now, following the great manager’s lead, it is time to change the rules. These two revolutionary assumptions must serve as the central tenets for a new way of working. They are the tenets for a new organization, a stronger organization, an organization design to reveal and stretch the strength of each employee. An organisation that knows that people aren’t our greatest assets but our people’s strengths are our greatest asset (Marcus Buckingham).
How To Identify Your Strength
For the sake of clarity, let’s be more precise about what we mean by a “strength.” The definition of a strength that we will use throughout is: consistent near perfect performance in an activity. By this definition Pam’s accurate decision making and ability to rally people around her organization’s common purpose are strengths. Sherie’s love of diagnosing and treating skin disease is a strength. Paula’s ability to generate and then refine article ideas that fit her magazine’s identity is a strength.
To use more celebrated examples, the golfer Tiger Wood’s extraordinary long-game – his length with his woods and his irons – is a strength. As is his putting. His ability to chip out of a bunker – inconsistent when compared to other top professionals (Tiger is 61st on the PGA tour in “sand saves”) – is not.In a business context, Bill Gate’s genius at taking innovations and transforming them into user-friendly application is a strength, whereas, his ability to maintain and build an enterprise in the face of legal and commercial assault – as compared to his partner’s Steve Ballmer – is not.
In an artistic setting, Cole Porter’s ability to carve the perfect lyric was a strength.His attempts at writing believable characters and plot were not. By defining strength in this way, consistent near perfect performance in an activity, we reveal three of the most important principles of living a long life.
You must be able to do it consistently
First, for an activity to be a strength you must be able to do it consistently. And this implies that it is a predictable part of your performance. You may have occasionally hit a shot that would have made Tiger Wood’s proud, but we are not going to call this activity a strength unless you can demonstrate it time and time again. And you must also derive some intrinsic satisfaction from the activity. Sherie is certainly smart enough to be any kind of doctor, but practising dermatology constitutes her strength because it is the specialty that energizes her. By contrast, Bill Gate is quite capable of implementing Microsoft‘s strategy, but because as he has reported, performing this role drains him of energy, this ability is not a strength. The acid test of a strength? The ability is a strength only if you can fathom yourself doing it repeatedly, happily, and successfully.
You don’t need to have strength in every aspect of your role
Second, you do not have to have strength in every aspect of your role in order to excel. Pam is not the perfect candidate for her role. Neither is Sherie. The people we describe above are not exactly suited for their roles. None of them is blessed with the “perfect hand.” They are simply doing the best they can with the card they were dealt. That excellent performance must be well rounded is one of the most pervasive myths we hope to dispel in this book (Now, Discover Your Strengths). When we studied them, excellent performers were rarely well rounded. On the contrary they were sharp.
You must maximize your strengths
Third, you will excel only by maximizing your strengths, never by fixing your weaknesses. This is not the same thing as saying “ignore your weaknesses.” The people we described did not ignore their weakness. Instead, they did something much more effective. They found ways to manage around their weaknesses, thereby freeing them up to hone their strengths to a sharper point. Each of them did this a little differently. Pam liberated herself by hiring an outside consultant to write the strategy plan. Bill Gates did something similar. He selected a partner, Steve Ballmer to run the company, allowing him to return to software development and re-discover his strengths path. Sherie the dermatologist, simply stop doing the kind of medicine that drained her. Paula, the magazine editor, turned down job offers.
How Tiger Woods did it
Tiger Woods was in a slightly tougher spot. He couldn’t escape the fact that his bunker play needed to improve, and so, like many of us must, he was forced to do damage control. He worked on his weakness just enough so that it did not undermine his strengths. But once his bunker play reached acceptable levels, he and his coach, Butch Harmon, turned their attention to their most important and creative work: the refining and perfecting of Tiger’s most dominant strength, his swing.
Of all of them, Cole Porter pursued the most aggressive and, some might say, riskiest strategy for managing around his weaknesses. He bet that if he kept polishing his strength as a song writer, very soon the audience simply wouldn’t care that his plot were weak and his characters stereotypical. His strength would blind people to his weaknesses.
Today, many would say that this strategy paid off. When you can write words and melodies as scintillating and sophisticated as his, it is almost irrelevant who is singing them or why.Each of these people found success and fulfillment in their work in very different fields because they intentionally played to their strengths. We want to help you do the same – to capitalize on your strengths, whatever they may be, and manage around your weaknesses, whatever they may be.
Talent vs Strength
This raises some slippery questions. What is the difference between a talent and a strength? Which aspect of a strength in networking, or strategizing or persuading can be learned, and which aspect are innate? What roles does skills, knowledge, experience, and self- awareness play in building a strength? If you don’t know how to come to grips with these questions, you may waste a great deal of time trying to learn strengths that aren’t learnable, or conversely, you may give up too early on strength that are. To answer the question you need a simple way to differentiate between what is innate and what you can acquire with practice. Specifically, we introduce you to three carefully define terms:
- Talents are your naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling or behavior.
- Knowledge consists of the facts and lessons learned.
- Skills are the step of an activity.
These three – talents, knowledge and skills – combine to create your strengths.For example, to be drawn towards strangers and to enjoy the challenge of making a connection with them is a talent, (defined later in the book as the theme “Woo”), whereas the ability to build a network of supporters who know you and are prepared to help you is a strength. To build this strength you have perfected your innate talent with skills and knowledge. Likewise, to be able to confront others is a talent (defined later as the theme “Command”), whereas the ability to sell successfully is a strength. To persuade others to buy your product you must have combined your talent with product knowledge and certain selling skills.
Identify your dominant talent
Although allare important to strength building, of these three raw materials the most important are talents. Your talents are innate, whereas skills and knowledge can be acquired through learning and practice; for example, as a sales person you can learn how to describe your product’s features (knowledge), you can even learn how to ask the right open-ended questions to elicit each prospect’s needs (a skill), but you’ll never learn how to push that prospect to commit at exactly the right moment and in exactly the right way. Thus, the key to building a bona fide strength is to identify your dominant talent and then refine them with knowledge and skills. Selah!