Lead From Strength

At Serious Business in New Orleans this year, best-selling author and motivational speaker Marcus Buckingham proposed a radical shift to a new way of working that accesses untapped potential.

Instead of focusing on a person’s weaknesses in order to improve performance, Marcus Buckingham suggests focusing on their strengths. The payoff, he says, will be much greater. Through his work at The Gallup Organization, Buckingham surveyed managers around the world to understand employee engagement. Eventually, he used this data to co-write his first best-seller, First, Break All the Rules (Simon & Schuster, 1999), which challenged the notion that managers should emulate the management style laid down by heads of corporations. Leadership in any business, Buckingham says, should come from the leader’s personal strengths, not from a cookie-cutter management protocol. By 2006 Buckingham struck out on his own, forming The Marcus Buckingham Company, which offers strengths-based leadership training via tools and programs geared toward revitalizing managers and companies that want to increase productivity and foster a collaborative workplace environment.

At Serious Business, Buckingham promised that he’d deliver one piece of data, one concept and one tool to his audience before he left the stage. The data he presented showed that team leaders were the key to the success or failure of two similar stores within the same company. Why? According to Buckingham, team leaders ask if their co-workers are committed to quality, if they know what is expected of them, and if they have a chance to do what they do best every day. Good advice for salon owners for whom team-building is crucial.

“We’ve all worked at places where we felt disengaged,” Buckingham says. “Then there are places that make us feel energized.”


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For Buckingham, finding out why is crucial, and it all goes back to leadership. “People don’t want feedback,” he says. “They want attention, and they want to be coached. If you have performance problems, it’s probably because people think they’re in the wrong job.” The concept he offered dealt with how good leaders motivate their staff, and the answer may be surprising. Helping employees build on their innate strengths rather than simply fixing their weaknesses, Buckingham says, is just good business. Buckingham does not mean to imply that you should ignore your employees’ weaknesses, but he doesn’t suggest starting there during reviews and meetings either. “Take what’s unique and make it useful,” he says.

The tool he promised turned out to be an online assessment he developed called Stand Out that helps people identify their leadership style. All of us fall into one or two of these nine categories: Advisor, Creator, Connector, Equalizer, Influencer, Pioneer, Stimulator and Teacher. Buckingham’s primary leadership style is Stimulator (energetic visionaries who have an innate ability to motivate large amounts of people), while his secondary leadership style is Creator (they make sense of the world by taking things apart to figure out how to make them better). It’s a blend of these two styles that defines you as a leader. Intrigued? Take the test at no cost when you buy his latest book, StandOut: The Groundbreaking New Strengths Assessment from the Leader of the Strengths Revolution (Thomas Nelson, 2011)you’ll get a key that enables you to create a free online accountor go to tmbc.com and pay $15. Either way, you’ll find your edge and win at work. —Erin Munsch