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Now, Discover Your Strengths

In his excellent book, “Now Discover Your Strengths,” author Marcus Buckingham and co-author Donald Clifton discuss the work they did for The Gallup Organization to find out what makes successful people successful.  What do those successful people have in common that makes them high achievers?

So they sifted through over two million interviews that Gallup had conducted over the years.  Two million!  The interviewees were doctors, lawyers, policemen, and firemen, white collar and blue collar alike, from many different occupations.  The only thing they had in common was that they were successful at whatever work they did.  Buckingham and Clifton wanted to find out why.  Here’s what they learned.

Successful people understand their own strengths, and they work to nuture those strengths, focus on them, and leverage them.  They don’t spend a lot of time trying to shore up their weaknesses.

In our culture, if a child is really talented at math and science, let’s say, but struggles with English and history, what do we do?  We get that child a tutor or Mom and Dad work with the child to improve in English and history.  Buckingham and Clifton would argue that it makes more sense to invest that extra effort in math and science.  That’s where the child’s natural talent lies, so we should work to develop that talent to its utmost.

The lesson for those of us in business is two-fold.  First, look at ourselves.  Are we wasting time struggling with activities that we’re just not very good at?  If so, wouldn’t we make a bigger contribution to the company if we off loaded that stuff we don’t do very well to someone else and focused on things where we really excel?

Second, look at your employees.  When you identify someone who is not performing well, consider the possibility that they have been put in a position where they are unable to use their real strengths.  Instead of trying to give that person remedial help in an effort to make him or her better at the job, maybe you should ask if the job could be modified to take advantage of the person’s strengths, or if not, maybe those strengths would make the greatest contribution to the company in another job.

When asked, “At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?”, out of 1.7 million employees in 101 companies from 63 countries, only 20 percent answered in the affirmative.  Twenty percent!  While that’s an appallingly low number, it reveals an enormous opportunity.  What if we could position the other 80 percent to do what they do best every day?  It boggles the mind.

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