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I just attended a keynote from the author of Now Discover your Strengths – Marcus Buckingham. His job in part was to entertain – but he had a strong message, that is the power of positivity.

“Build on your strengths and manage around your weaknesses.” If we are feeling good about ourselves then our level of engagement goes up. Quite simply love what you do and do what you love.

He posed the question “At work do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?”

Buckingham pondered why do we conduct exit interviews with people leaving an organisation rather than looking at those who are engaged and happy at work, find out what they like and do more of it. He says we have a tendency to look at what is ‘wrong’ in the hope that by studying that we will find out what is right.

Our role as leaders is to become students of excellence, to focus on what is right, to focus on the good things and make more of it. – However, he proclaimed that his concern is that even though he has sold 2 million books on strengths we still view our workplaces as if something is wrong.

In fact, he says that his research shows that we are actually in decline. In 2005 17% of the workforce said that they spend most of their time playing to their strengths – this has declined in 2007 to 12%. (I wondered if that is because now  I’m more aware of our strengths – so now we know we are not playing to them.)

As leaders, it is important that we play to our strengths. We have to lead by example, coach our people based on their strengths. He asked, “how often do you feel an emotional high from your job – or that you’re so focused that you lose track of time?”

The fascinating thing is that our strengths don’t change – as you grow you become more of who you already are. Whilst some think that people grow from their weaknesses – in fact, they grow the most in the areas of strengths, and they are the greatest source of growth.

The greatest contributor to a team he argues is not the person who will take on anything to get the job done – a great team member volunteers his strengths to the team.

Basically, believe in your strengths – trust what makes you feel good. And as leaders, it is our job to work out how to use collective strengths powerfully.

Whilst we as an organisation (RedBalloon) has engaged the Gallup Organization to formally discover our people’s strengths – Marcus said there is a short version you can do to get an indication of your strengths. Simply carry a piece of paper with you for a week and write down everything you Love and everything you Loathe. And review them based on success, instinct, growth & needs. How do you feel before an activity and how do you feel after it?

Marcus summed up with what to me was the best definition of the difference between a manager and a leader.

  • A manager’s job is to discover the strengths of each individual. Find out what makes people unique and what their passions are. A manager’s role is to focus on what makes people different.
  • A leader’s job is to rally people for a better future. To cut through the differences and discover what people share – focus on what people have in common – (values, vision and alignment.)

(The opposite of a leader is a pessimist)

I for one will make sure that we focus on celebrating what is great – rather than dwelling on what we did not get done – look at what we did achieve.

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