Dr. Relly Nadler: This week we are really excited about having an award winning author, speaker and visionary, Marcus Buckingham. He has been hailed as a visionary by corporations such as Toyota, Cocoa Cola, Master Foods, Wells Fargo, Microsoft, and Disney.
Marcus will share his insights from his book, Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently.
He is a best-selling author with more than 3.6 million copies of his landmark best-sellers in print. He draws on more than 150,000 interviews collected by Gallop and his past experience of over 25 years. He has developed the thesis for his strength message that is changing the way the world approaches life and work.
Dr. Cathy Greenberg: It is really a pleasure to have Marcus Buckingham with us today. He is a fabulous speaker, a New York Times best-selling author, and I am overjoyed that he has agreed to be our guest today.
Marcus Buckingham addresses more than 250,000 people in live audiences around the globe each year. He led a workshop sponsored by Oprah Winfrey for 30 talented but unfulfilled and unhappy women. Acting on his advice, they were able to make immediate, significant and positive changes in their lives. More than 1.7 million people downloaded the three-hour workshop video, and more than 100,000 unique contributors came online to post messages when his workshop and results were featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
The extremely successful workshop became the basis for Buckingham’s book, Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently. Marcus has been writing books and producing outstanding programs based on his strengths revolution to maximize the performance of everyone he touches including such titles as: First, Break All The Rules, Now Discover Your Strengths, The One Thing You Need to Know, and The Truth About You: Your Secret to Success.
There are more than 3.7 million copies of his books in print and prior to founding the Marcus Buckingham Company, a company that creates strengths based management training solutions for organizations worldwide, he utilized his nearly two decades of experience as a senior researcher at the Gallop Organization to break through the preconceptions about achievements and get to the core of what really drives success.
Buckingham and Gallop developed the Strengths Finder; it’s a personality test which identifies signature themes to help employees quantify their personal strengths in the workplace and at home. Since finding the Strengths Finder and its debut in 2001, more than 5 million people have assessed this important tool to discover their very own strengths. Welcome to the show, Marcus.
Marcus Buckingham: Thank you for having me.
Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Oh, it’s a delight. We are thrilled to have you here. One of the things that we always do with all of our guests is ask one key introductory question, and that is who have been the most influential people and thinkers in your life and in your career? How have they shaped your thinking about leadership and coaching?
Marcus Buckingham: I suppose the most influential thinker in terms of my development was with Don Clifton who was the President of Selection Research Inc. when I joined it, before we acquired Gallop back in 1984. Don was a mathematics and psychology professor at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and was basically the founder of a position on psychology which has since become known as “positive psychology.” At the time it was very rare based on the idea that in order to understand what is good you can’t study or infer it from studying what is bad.
I was at the time studying social psychology at Cambridge and when you did that you studied deviant behavior. You studied pathology, you studied neurosis and psychosis. Most of psychology, and I think that Martin Seligman, the past President of the American Psychological Association said this; “most of psychology was half-baked. That they had baked the parts about mental illness. But this is the part of what makes life worth living; joy, meaning, hope, compassion, and so forth, was unbaked.”
I heard this first, way before I met Marty, in 1984 with Don. So Don Clifton with his focus on what does excellence look like, can we understand excellence by studying it? Does it have its own configuration? What is that configuration? How can we learn to identify the best leaders, the best managers, the best teachers, the best anything? Can we do that by studying them carefully? That whole idea and the practice of it was, at the time, quite in the minority, but for me, immediately engaging and so utterly different from what I was studying at University.
So I joined Gallop in 1984 and then really from that moment until Don’s death 20 years later, he has been part of my guiding influence in a lot of my thinking about how and where my focus should be.
Other than that, I suppose there are just a couple of other people. I certainly think of my father who most of the books that I have read over years have been suggested to me by my father. He was in human resources for his entire career and was always struggling with the challenge of how you find, keep and attract the best people in any organization that you lead. So his guidance has been; every idea I’ve ever had it sort of started with a conversation with him and was run by and through him.
Then beyond that, in terms of some of the people that I read and re-read and constantly am thinking about what they say and how it affects what I’m doing or working on, I suppose I would point to three people that I constantly read and reread. One is Peter Drucker of course and his idea of the organization as a social organism, first and foremost, which is really what I think came out of his landmark study of General Motors in the 50’s.
The other is Steven Pinker who is a linguist, a psycho-linguist out of MIT. He has written so many wonderful books like The Blank Slate, and The Language Instinct. I’m fascinated by his erudition in terms of the working of the human mind.
Then lastly a chap by the name of Robert Wright who wrote a wonderful book called The Moral Animal, asking where does morality come from; why do we have compassion, why do we have empathy.
I know that you focus a lot on emotional intelligence, but Robert asks, I think, really fundamental questions, interestingly, about why we have happiness at all. Why do we have a moral sense of conscious at all? Why do we feel guilt? What use is guilt? What use is altruism? I’m fascinated by those, stay up until four in the morning, kinds of conversations about where those kinds of morals come from. In order to be a moral animal today, do we have to begin by understanding how fundamentally amoral we are as human beings? Those kinds of questions might bore some but the get me going.
Dr. Relly Nadler: Early in the 80’s I had psychology graduate doctoral program and we had one class in the healthy personality, that was it. Everything else was about maladaptations and everything else.
Marcus Buckingham: I don’t think we had one.
Dr. Relly Nadler: Let’s talk a little bit more about the Science of Strengths. How is it that you see, from your research and your work, that strengths influence people?
Marcus Buckingham: Well the place that I am coming from is, and I think this is something that I have always had probably, a sense of the uniqueness of each of us. The answer to so many questions that I have ever asked, and I’ve cast my mind back when I was 16, 17, 18 years old to answer questions like how do you motivate someone or how closely should someone be monitored? How do you focus someone?
My answer to all of those questions always seemed to be “it depends.” It just depends on the person. So my beginning point with my research into leadership, management, or coaching was always that there is enduring individual uniqueness. Now we can get into long debates on whether that uniqueness is caused by nurture or by nature or by the interaction between the two.
The bottom line is that it does seem as though there is an enduring uniqueness to each one of us and that we do not massively change our personalities into someone else. Yes the brain retains its plasticity throughout its life, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you rewire your brain to become somebody else, it just probably means that you actually grow and change and develop the most in those areas where you already have some preexisting strengths.
My starting point was always just how intriguing it was that two people, perhaps of the same race and the same nationality and the same age, could look at exactly the same situation and see something entirely different.
From that came my interest in individual strengths. You could call them traits or talents. My language was strengths. The idea that somebody could look at two people arguing and get invigorated by jumping in between the two of them and taking a tough issue and putting it out there on the table and as people around were angrier, this person would get colder, calmer and clearer. Their brain somehow would find one perfect word after another as they cleared the conflict in the air and moved on and that there could be a person like that.
Whereas someone like me, you put me in exactly the same situation and the more angry people got around me, somehow my brain would shut down. I wouldn’t be able to find any words at all. So the idea that life hands you a series of moments and it’s because of the accident of our birth or whatever, that some people are invigorated by certain moments while other people are depleted by the very same kind of moments; that difference was immediately intriguing to me.
I think for individuals what that means of course is that you are wired to draw strengths from certain moments in life. Some people are wired to draw strength from tiny increments of growth in somebody else. Somebody else might be wired to draw strength from resolving conflict. Somebody else is wired to draw strength from really feeling the emotions of another person. We can call those strengths. I think for each one of us our responsibility is to understand ourselves well enough to know, sorry this is a cliché, but to know how we are wired and therefore to know how to draw strength from the moments of life.
That’s what I mean when I talk about a strengths based approach to life, or to performance, or to leadership; it really means do you know yourself well enough to know where you can draw strength from life.
What a great conversation! You can listen to the complete interview, above, without commercials!