Marcus Buckingham Is Wrong

By slideshow Bob, via FlickrMarcus Buckingham is one of the most powerful brands in business consulting, boosted even more by his recent alliance with Oprah. I’m sure you’ve seen or read his books, including First, Break All the Rules, and Now, Discover Your Strengths.

But after listening to a long podcast interview with Marcus last week, I am convinced that he is wrong. Or at least, half wrong. And the half he gets wrong is horribly bad advice if you’re looking to get more from your life.

What he’s gotten right: It is really important to discover your strengths. Know thyself, right? I’ve done the same, with the help of coaches and classes, and it has enriched my life beyond measure.

This self-discovery journey also uncovered my weaknesses – it’s an inescapable part of the process. And with the help of these coaches, I can now do a lot of things that I thought I never could.

But Marcus would deprive you of that experience. In the podcast he says, “Your weaknesses aren’t to be worked on. They are to be neutralized. They are to be managed around.” Don’t improve them, he says, because “they are your areas of least opportunity.”

What a horrible prescription for boredom and sterility! Taken to its logical extreme, such advice freezes our lives into place as we were at age 8. We would never grow, never learn, and never experience the richness of life.

Luckily, most people have more sense than that. Even Marcus says most people would want to work on their strengths. Well, thank heavens for that!

My joys in life come from the discovery of the new. Perhaps this growing process is related in some way to my strengths, but if I were convinced that I could never grow, and couldn’t ever do something, well … what a boring, limited life I would be leading.

So, by all means, discover your strengths. But never let those strengths define your limits.

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3 thoughts on “Marcus Buckingham Is Wrong

  1. Really interesting post, Frank! I don’t know if I completely agree with your comment that this part of Buckingham’s ideas is a “prescription for boredom and sterility,” though. Part of what he’s saying (as I recall) is that your strengths are the things you do that make you feel most alive. They’re the things that make you want to get up in the morning; they’re the things that don’t feel like work. They’re also fairly big themes; while I love to read and write, for example, and spend a lot of my work time doing one or the other, those are things Buckingham would call skills rather than talents–things that can be taught and improved with practice. The “strength” he would relate those things to is a much broader theme.

    Focusing on your strengths doesn’t have to mean that you’re freezing yourself into place–there’s an endless amount of skills and knowledge to be acquired. But there’s a difference between learning from a place of strength and learning from a place of weakness, at least in my mind (and I think in Buckingham’s).

    I can learn to improve my budgeting skill, for example. But no matter how long I practice, I will never love finance. I will never forget that I’m working while I do a budget. I will never get up in the morning and think, “Wow, I really hope I get to do some finance stuff today.” Meanwhile, my husband does just that. He reads books on accounting for fun. That’s his strength, in Buckingham’s terminology, but it will never be mine.

    I think that’s what Buckingham is talking about–capitalizing on the things you’re best at, the things you can throw yourself into with great joy. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t learn new things–just that you shouldn’t try to be someone you’re not while you learn.

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Lisa. The distinction you make between skills and strengths is helpful.
    For example, when I hire people, part of my consideration is how they complement the skills of my existing team.
    I guess what most triggers my reaction to Marcus is the suggestion that we are essentially static creatures with limited capacity for growth. That idea frightens me to the core!

  3. Have you read “Strengths Finder” by Tom Rath? I saw Buckingham on Oprah but haven’t seen his books, but it sounded a lot like the Strengths Finder philosophy.

    I have to say I love that philosophy–that you should focus on your strengths and not worry about improving your weaknesses because you’ll never be good at them anyway. Granted, it’s because I’m a slacker who loves being given permission to permanently walk away from things I hate or am not good at 😉

    I agree with Lisa–it’s not that I don’t want to learn new things; it’s just that the amount of time or energy I’d devote to learning, say, finance or writing music, would be considerably less than what I devote to doing stuff I’m passionate about. I honestly don’t think I’ll ever look back with regret because I don’t know how to read sheet music or do a budget.

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