Ian Portsmouth: Welcome to the Business Coach Podcast, an advice-oriented series that tackles the top issues and opportunities facing Canada’s small businesses. I’m your host, Ian Portsmouth, the editor of Profit Magazine and we’ve developed this podcast in cooperation with BMO, Bank of Montreal.
Today we have a very special episode in store for you. I’m on location at the Art of Management event in Toronto where a dynamite line-up of management speakers has assembled to share their insights and advice into multiple aspects of doing business better. Joining me right now, after his great presentation to open the conference is Marcus Buckingham. Marcus is recognized as the global guru of strengths management. He spent 17 years with the Gallup organization analysing what makes companies, managers, and workers excel and he has reported the results of his research in several best-selling books including First, Break all the Rules, and his latest, Find your Strongest Life. Marcus, thanks for joining the Business Coach Podcast.
Marcus Buckingham: Not at all.
Ian Portsmouth: So, you have a very non-traditional concept of strength. We usually think of strengths as the things that we’re very good at, but you would argue against that. How so?
Marcus Buckingham: Well, I don’t think you can compare performance with strengths and weaknesses. I think people often do that. Clearly there are some things that we are quite good at doing that we hate to do. God blessed you with a lot of ability but not much appetite, that happens. I wouldn’t suggest that that’s a good definition of a strength. Some things you’re good at but drain or drag you down, then you would be rather an odd person to say build your life, build your career around that. A strength isn’t something you’re good at and a weakness isn’t something you’re bad at. A strength is something that strengthens you and a weakness is something that weakens you. And if you take your strengths, you have to work like crazy in order to combine them with skills and knowledge and turn them into real performance. But don’t mislabel them. Performance is performance and strengths and weaknesses are the raw materials of that.
Ian Portsmouth: So how should one apply their strengths in their work?
Marcus Buckingham: Well, I think it’s a week to week to week thing. We have far more room to manoeuvre in our jobs than you think. If you ask, Canadians do have the chance to alter or change your job to fit your strengths better 72% said they do. So most of us, not all of us, but most of us have the freedom to change our job to fit our strengths better. And what we need to do with that freedom, once we know what our strengths are, is put together what I would call a strong, it sounds funny but a strong ‘week’ plan. Week, not weak. Weeks are a very strange thing, so the only unit of time that was created for humans by humans. Every society known to man has weeks, they’ve always had 7 days. Days and months and years are artefacts of planets moving around the sun. Minutes and seconds have to do with clocks. But there is something about a week that fits our rhythm. So each week I think what you need to do is figure out what are the one or two things I can do to leverage my strengths more this week. And you’ll find that gradually over time, your job comes to look as though it were crafted around you. Even though basically you took a generic job and you moulded it.
Ian Portsmouth: So you try to apply your strengths and should you ignore your weaknesses?
Marcus Buckingham: You manage around them. And there’s plenty of things you can do to manage around a weakness. I talked about some of them this morning, I mean you can stop doing the thing that weakens you. There’s an awful lot of stuff that we do that was started as a project or program then the executive that started it moves on but the program still exists. So there is a lot of stuff in our job that you can eradicate. You can team up with someone who’s really good at what you’re not so good at or is invigorated by the things that drain you. You can look at the strength I mean look at the weakness differently. So if you don’t like meetings but you love serving clients, you can maybe, maybe get your head around the fact that this meeting will help serve the client better. If you don’t like confrontation but you are invigorated by doing the right thing maybe on those few occasions where you got to be confronted, you can see how it serves your value system. And there’s sometimes when you just have to suck it up and do it. So there’s tactics you can use to manage around your weaknesses. What I think we need to be really clear on though is that weaknesses are not areas of opportunities what we call them in the business because we don’t like to use the word weaknesses. But they aren’t areas of opportunity, they are barren; they are areas where you’ll grow the least.
Ian Portsmouth: Should business owners and other managers invest a lot of time and effort and energy to helping their employees address their weaknesses or should we really get off of that track?
Marcus Buckingham: If it’s hurting a client or a customer you got to figure out a way to deal with it, right now, today. Long term, you’ve got to do a different ROI calculation. And the return on investment calculation is where am I going to get the best performance return when I invest in my people and what I’m trying to say as clearly as possible is you will get the best return by figuring out where a person has already shown some natural advantage. And then you work with that person to help them focus or fine tune or sharpen that particular strength that they have. That doesn’t mean if they’re assertive you get to shout louder, that means how do we use that assertiveness with your knowledge and your skills and your relationships to get things done. That’s a really good use of a business leader’s time. Spending a ton of time trying to rewire somebody who doesn’t like mingling so that they like mingling, that’s a very poor use of your time. Occasionally you may have to do it, but make sure you know that you’re not going to get an exponential return.
Ian Portsmouth: Final question – all business owners are managers by definition, but not all business owners are good managers, so what would you recommend that a business owner do if they realize that one of their strengths is not managing people?
Marcus Buckingham: Limit their span of control. Have two people that report to you and make sure that one of them is a really good manager. So find somebody who loves to get work done through other people. Find somebody who individualizes. Find someone who sees little increments of growth in other people and gets a kick out of it. All those things that make a great manager. Make sure that your span of control is tiny and make sure one of those people that reports to you loves managing others.
Ian Portsmouth: Marcus, thanks for joining the Business Coach Podcast.
Marcus Buckingham: Not at all. Enjoyed it
Ian Portsmouth: Marcus Buckingham. Marcus is the world leader in the philosophy of strengths management. His latest book is entitled “Find your Strongest Life”.
Well that’s it for another episode of the Business Coach Podcast. Be sure to check out other episodes which you can download from BMO.com and profitguide.com and iTunes. If you have any comments or suggestions about the podcast please send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time, I’m Ian Portsmouth the editor of Profit Magazine wishing you continued success.