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Business Officer Magazine

Unconventional Wisdom

By defying management as usual, NACUBO general session speaker Marcus Buckingham promotes new ways to get the best from the brightest (including yourself).

By Karla Taylor

Marcus Buckingham has a word for this: rubbish.

“The time you spend on weaknesses is damage control. It might help you avoid failure, but there’s a big difference between that and finding excellence,” says Buckingham, a former senior consultant with the Gallup Organization and author of such bestselling business books as First, Break All the Rules and the just released The One Thing You Need to Know.

“Eight of ten [employees] are in the wrong job—or they think they are, which amounts to the same thing,” Buckingham says. “On the one hand, it’s a tragedy. But it’s also a great opportunity—if you make a workplace that’s strength-based” instead of sinking so much time into remedial work with your staff.

Buckingham’s strength is dispensing unconventional wisdom about finding and motivating talented employees, becoming an excellent manager, and—most recently—understanding the crucial distinction between management and leadership. With his concerned-but-blunt tone and British accent, Buckingham comes across a bit like SuperNanny for the misguided manager. Some of the insights he’ll share at the NACUBO general session on July 12 include:

The human relations truths he’s studied in the business world apply to you as a college or university business officer. True, tenure can make your labor force “more static,” but many things operate essentially the same way, “whether on a campus or on the island of Samoa.” Specifically, “each human being is unique. There are certain limits to what you can do to change a person. But there are huge contributions that person can make”—if you make full use of his or her capabilities.

At Gallup, he studied 80,000 great managers to learn what they do differently. What he found: They hire for talent, not skills or experience. They focus on maximizing staffers’ strengths, not slaving over their weaknesses. And they spend the most time boosting the most productive people.

Management and leadership are equally important—once you get past misperceptions about how they differ. “The very, very important difference is that great managers are not just mini-leaders waiting to grow up,” Buckingham says. The manager’s job is to transform each individual’s talent into performance by finding what is unique in that person and capitalizing on it. Great managers have the instinct to coach and—naturally—focus on staff strengths so that employees believe their own success is paramount.

The leader’s role is to rally people to a better future—an ability that combines irrational optimism, strong integrity, and a robust ego. Great leaders turn a staff’s natural fear of the unknown into confidence about the future by being clear on what the goals are and how employees can help achieve the goals each day.

This advice is as important to your personal development as it is to your employees’ professional lives. Just as sweating over others’ weaknesses is counterproductive, so is fighting your own, Buckingham says. Too often, you get promoted out of jobs where you use your strengths into positions where you’re confronting your weaknesses. In the quest to improve, you may delude yourself into thinking that you need an obstacle (some type of “grit,” as Buckingham calls it) to work against.

“But that’s essentially rubbish,” he says. “A weakness is something that weakens you. Grit grinds you down. Really successful people cut out of their lives those things they don’t like doing—and unleash the power of their strengths.

When You Can Hear Buckingham
Business authority Marcus Buckingham will speak at the closing general session on Tuesday, July 12, from 3:15 to 4:30 pm.

“So think through the things that make you feel less self-assured and take every opportunity to cut those out. Success in life is figuring out which doors you close instead of which you open.”

Your central workplace question, Buckingham says, is this: “Am I loving what I’m doing? Or am I drained by it? Find out what you don’t like doing and stop it. If I had to give one piece of advice, that would be it.”

Author Bio Karla Taylor is a freelance writer in Bethesda, Maryland.