Years ago, there was a series of television commercials that featured the "Kemper Cavalry." Each effectively communicated a message from Kemper Insurance that said, in effect, "We'll always be there when you need us most." Many people apparently believe that there is such an alternative to focus, preparation, hard work, personal accountability, patience, self-reliance, persistence, etc. For them, other alternatives include the Tooth Fairy, silver bullets, divine intervention, lotteries, and e-mails from widows, orphans, and attorneys who are émigrés from Africa.
I first became aware of Marcus Buckingham when I read First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently (1999) in which he and co-author Curt Coffman draw upon 80,000 interviews conducted by Gallup during the past 25 years. They suggest "four keys" to becoming an excellent manager: Finding the right fit for employees by getting their strengths in proper alignment with the tasks for which they are responsible, focusing on those strengths, defining the right results and making the given expectations crystal clear to those involved, and finally, hiring for talent as well as for knowledge and skills rather than merely filling a vacant position according to a job description that may no longer be relevant. Good stuff.
In this volume, Buckingham quite correctly emphasizes (a) knowing what one's personal strengths are and then (b) leveraging them to achieve desirable results, whatever the nature and extent of those results may be. He is one of several past or current executives within The Gallup Organization who have written a number of articles and books, based on a wealth of research data. Several Web sites now offer access to much of this information, notably gallup.com, BuckinghamLive.com, and strengthsfinder.com.
As Buckingham explains, he wrote this book to show "you how to take action. It teaches you a simple six step discipline to make the most of your strengths and neutralize your weaknesses, and how you can stick to this discipline despite the pressures of a company, a boss, or even a spouse pulling you off your strengths path. There are six chapters in the book. Six steps. So, what you have in this book is a six week, six step discipline. Each step constitutes a week of reading, action, and discovery, and each week builds on the one before. Don't try to read the book in one sitting. Instead, keep up this weekly rhythm of read, act, discover, and, by the end of the book, you'll know how to take a stand for your strengths and leverage them as never before. Your performance will soar, and more significant still, you'll know how to sustain this level of performance throughout the many twists and turns of your career."
It is worth noting that each copy of this book includes its own ID code. As Buckingham explains, "This code not only allows you a free viewing of the first two films of Trombone Player Wanted, it also gives you the right to take the Strengths Engagement Tack at the beginning of the book, and again at the end. This short, web-based survey first measures how engaged your strengths are as compared to the rest of the working world, and then reveals how engaged your strengths are going to be in the near-term future. If you work as part of a team, your results can then be combined with your colleagues to create a Strengths Engagement Track team score." Each copy of Tom Rath's StrengthsFinder 2.0 also has a code, one that serves as an exclusive link to The Gallup Organization's "StrengthsFinder 2.0" self-diagnostic. These access codes are substantial value-added benefits to the material with which they are provided.
Especially in recent years, many busy executives have set aside time, energy, and (in some instances their own) funds to take all manner of standardized tests, some of which identify both strengths and weaknesses (i.e. areas in which improvement is needed). The Gallup Organization's resources enable them to obtain additional information about themselves while correlating that information with information generated by hundreds of thousands of others. "Now what?"
As indicated earlier, Buckingham strongly recommends focusing almost entirely on developing one's strengths and then leveraging them whenever and wherever possible. For supervisors, he strongly recommends that -- similarly -- they focus on their direct reports' strengths, constantly helping to develop them further rather than becoming preoccupied with weaknesses, and get those strengths in proper alignment with tasks that are most appropriate to the given strengths.
"How to do that effectively?" Read his book.