One Thing You Need to Know: Marcus Buckingham

I’m a big fan of Marcus Buckingham. If you don’t know about Marcus Buckingham, you should probably start by watching this:

So much about the way we measure ourselves is based on our personal weaknesses rather than our personal strengths. In school, a student who is really great at writing but not so great at math is usually given more math and less writing. This is done to help remediate the deficiency. Helping students get better at math is a good thing, but the remediation often comes at the expense of time spent practicing areas in which the student is naturally gifted. The student is frustrated because all of the school time is spent doing things he isn’t good at and by the time the remediation drills are done, he is so tired he doesn’t have energy to dig in on the other stuff. The problem here is that the amount of time and energy working on weakness control probably yields small gains. Not very efficient. A person who is naturally bad at drawing is never going to be an artist. Mediocrity is the best outcome that can be expected. The problem is that this mediocrity in an area of weakness detracts from time spent becoming excellent in the only area a person can become excellent — in an area of personal strength.

Job evaluations are most often designed and delivered to help call attention to areas where the employee can pick up the slack. I can think of many job evaluations where I walked in expecting to talk about the things I wasn’t doing and the areas in which I needed to contribute more. The problem here is that I am naturally limited in some areas, like organization. If I am told to focus more time becoming highly organized, then I am also, in effect, being told to spend less of my time developing and sharing new ideas (a personal strength).

Time and energy are limited. Poor performances need to be addressed, but time and energy are most usefully invested in developing on existing strengths.

That’s the core concept of One Thing You Need to Know. Marcus tries to provide one central organizing insight for successful managing, leading and personal success.

Great managers discover what is unique about each member of their team and capitalize on it.

Great leaders articulate a clear, common understanding of what the team’s better future will look like. Being clear about the future is way more important than being correct.

Successful individuals discover what they don’t like doing and figure out how to stop doing it.

This probably sounds rather trite, but the discussion of each of these elements is quite profound in its simplicity.

My biggest takeway: as we grow older, we become more of what we already are. A strong, satisfying career is built on a person’s ability to focus almost exclusively on developing excellence in areas where natural strengths already exist. Successful careers are also built on a perpetual, allergic avoidance of doing things that do not express one’s strengths. Don’t throw your time and energy into developing your weaknesses toward mediocrity. Partner with people who can do things you can’t. Be passionate. Be relentless. Be honest with yourself. If you don’t love what you are doing, you should probably be doing something different.

This is the kind of controlling insight I want my work team to have. This is the kind of experience I want every student I work with to develop. This is the kind of confidence I want my daughter to carry with her into the world.

Every one of us is limitlessly strong so long as we don’t dwell unnecessarily in our areas of weakness.