Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Truth About You by Marcus Buckingham

This is not a book. According to its own cover, it is a "revolutionary toolkit" that includes an "enhanced DVD, interactive book, and ReMemo Pad to reveal your strengths."

I forget where I heard about this. One of the blogs or listservs I follow, I think. I've read First, Break all the Rules, and I've seen Buckingham speak at a conference I attended, and I was pretty impressed each time with his non-traditional approach to many business issues. So when I heard he had written a book about how to identify your strengths and bring them more into play in your work life, I decided to try it out.

There are certainly some old ideas here—old, at least, in the sense that Buckingham has voiced them before. Like the fact that you'll never turn weaknesses into strengths, so you should stop trying to do so (for either yourself or your employees), and instead invest that energy in trying to apply your strengths as often and as productively as possible.

But an interesting new idea—new, in the sense, that I haven't heard it expressed before—is that strengths are not what you're good at and weaknesses are not what you're bad at. As Buckingham explains in both the "enhanced DVD" and "interactive book":

Don't you have some things that you're good at, but they bore you, drain you, or frustrate you? You are certainly capable of doing them, and because you're capable of doing them, people keep asking you to do them—in fact, they come to rely on you to do them—but if you never had to do those things again it would be too soon. What do you call activities like that?

Well, if you're Marcus Buckingham, you call them weaknesses. Any activity, no matter how good you are at it, that leaves you feeling weaker after you do it, is a weakness. Just as any activity, no matter how inexperienced you may be at it, that leaves you feeling stronger after doing it, is a strength.

I found this perspective both refreshing and compelling. Inspired, I decided to give the interactive parts of Buckingham's book a fair try. This meant carrying the "ReMemo Pad"—i.e., a little notebook with a blue cover on one side and a black cover on the other—around with me for two weeks. For the first week, any time I felt myself looking forward to something, any time I found myself in the zone with time going by quickly, any time I found myself jazzed and energized, I was supposed to scribble down in the blue half of the notebook the activity responsible for these feelings. This I faithfully did, and at the end of that first week I read through all my blue pages and, as instructed, tried to identify the common behaviors and practices they revealed so I could write my three strength statements. And here they are:

I feel strong when:
1. I write words that contain truth.
2. I capture ideas and communicate them effectively and in entertaining ways.
3. I strategize around difficulties and solve problems.

According to Buckingham, these are my true strengths, and they should serve as my roadmap for moving my job and my career forward. And you know what? I feel pretty good about them. I have good opportunities to employ them in my current position, and if I can build more such opportunities into my future I think I will find even greater reward and satisfaction.

The second week I was supposed to engage in a similar exercise, but this time scribbling down in the black half of the notebook any activity I found myself wishing someone else would do, where I found myself struggling to concentrate, where my mind wandered, where I wished it was simply over and done with. These would in turn reveal my weakness statements, and I would be able to use them in a similar fashion to my strength statements, avoiding them the same way I tried to embrace my strengths.

Funny thing, though. After a week I had only one thing written down in the black half of the notebook. It had to do with confronting a political situation, and I never had the drive or energy to codify it into a formal statement of weakness. I think I felt so busy—and excited—moving forward on the strengths, that the weaknesses really had no appeal for me.

There were plenty of other tips and tricks in this little book, but I feel like I've kind of moved past it now. I'm actively working on bringing my strengths into greater play in my professional life and I'm beginning to reap some of the benefits Buckingham speaks of. On that level, this may be the most useful business book I've read.

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