Buckingham & Clifton, “Now Discover Your Strengths,” Excerpts

Buckingham & Clifton, “Now Discover Your Strengths,” Excerpts

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Unformatted text preview: Tiger Woods, Bill Gates, and Cole Porter “What is a strength?” For the sake of clarity let’s be more precise about what we mean by a “strength.” The definition of a strength that we will use throughout this book is quite specific: consistent near perfect performance in an activity. By this definition Pam’s accurate decision-making and ability to rally people around her organiza- tion’s common purpose are strengths. Sherie’s love of diagnosing and treating skin diseases is a strength. Paula’s ability to generate and then refine article ideas that fit her magazine’s identity is a strength. To use more celebrated examples, the golfer Tiger Woods’s ex— traordinary long-game—his length with his woods and his irons—is a strength. As is his putting. His ability to chip out of a bunker—inconsistent when compared to other top professionals (Tiger is 61st on the PGA tour in “sand saves”)—is not. In a business context Bill Gates’s genius at taking innovations and transforming them into user-friendly applications is a strength, whereas his ability to maintain and build an enterprise in the face of legal and commercial assault—as compared to his partner’s, Steve Ballmer—is not. In an artistic setting, Cole Porter’s ability to carve the perfect lyric was a strength. His attempts at writing believable characters and plots were not. By defining strength in this way, consistent near perfect per- formance in an activity, we reveal three of the most important principles of living a strong life. 25 THE ANATOMY OF A STRENGTH First, for an activity to be a strength you must be able to do it consistently. And this implies that it is a predictable part of your performance. You may have occasionally hit a shot that would have made Tiger Woods proud, but we are not going to call this ac- tivity a strength unless you can demonstrate it time and time again. And you must also derive some intrinsic satisfaction from the activity. Sherie is certainly smart enough to be any kind of doctor, but practicing dermatology constitutes her strength be- cause it is the specialty that energizes her. By contrast, Bill Gates is quite capable of implementing Microsoft’s strategy, but be— cause, as he has reported, performing this role drains him of en- ergy, this ability is not a strength. The acid test of a strength? The ability is a strength only if you can fathom yourself doing it re- peatedly, happily, and successfully. Second, you do not have to have strength in every aspect of your role in order to excel. Pam is not the perfect candidate for her role. Neither is Sherie. The people we described above are not ex- actly suited for their roles. None of them is blessed with the “per— fect hand.” They are simply doing the best they can with the cards they were dealt. That excellent performers must be well rounded is one of the most pervasive myths we hope to dispel in this book. When we studied them, excellent performers were rarely well rounded. On the contrary, they were sharp. Third, you will excel only by maximizing your strengths, never by fixing your weaknesses. This is not the same as saying “ignore your weaknesses.” The people we described did not ignore their weaknesses. Instead, they did something much more effective. They found ways to manage around their weaknesses, thereby freeing them up to hone their strengths to a sharper point. Each of them did this a little differently. Pam liberated herself by hiring an outside consultant to write the strategic plan. Bill Gates did some- thing sirnilar. He selected a partner, Steve Ballmer, to run the 26 STRONG LIVES company, allowing him to return to software development and rediscover his strengths’ path. Sherie, the dermatologist, simply stopped doing the kind of medicine that drained her. Paula, the magazine editor, turned down job offers. Tiger Woods was in a slightly tougher spot. He couldn’t escape the fact that his bunker play needed to improve, and so, like many of us must, he was forced to do damage control. He worked on his weakness just enough so that it did not undermine his strengths. But once his bunker play reached acceptable levels, he and his coach, Butch Harmon, turned their attention to their most impor- tant and creative work: the refining and perfecting of Tiger’s most dominant strength, his swing. Of all of them, Cole Porter pursued the most aggressive and, some might say, riskiest strategy for managing around his weak- nesses. He bet that if he kept polishing his strengths as a song- writer, very soon the audience simply wouldn’t care that his plots were weak and his characters stereotypical. His strengths would blind people to his weaknesses. Today, "many would say that his strategy paid off. When you can write words and melodies as scin— tillating and sophisticated as his, it is almost irrelevant who is singing them or why. Each of these people found success and fulfillment in their work in very different fields because they intentionally played to their strengths. We want to help you do the same—to capitalize on your strengths, whatever they may be, and manage around your weaknesses, whatever they may be. 27 Is He Always This Good? “What can we learn about strengths from Colin Powell?” Recently, General Colin Powell came to speak to one thousand of The Gallup Organization’s leaders. His reputation was almost ridiculously impressive. We knew him to be the former national security advisor, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, com— mander—in—chief of NAT O’s forces during Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and, according to the last decade of global polls, one of the ten most respected leaders in the world. Needless to say, our expectations were high. As he walked onstage after a suitably glowing introduction, more than a few of us wondered whether the performance would live up to the resume. By the end of the speech we had a different question: “Is he al- ways this good?” In the course of one short hour General Powell had revealed himself to be an especially gifted public speaker. He drew us into the intimate politics of President Ronald Reagan’s Oval Office. He placed us across a table in the Kremlin as Mikhail Gorbachev announced perestroika with: “General, you are going to have to find yourself another enemy.” He had us waiting by the phone for General H. Norman Schwarzkopf ’s call to report on the first air strikes of Desert Storm. He spoke casually, without the formulaic patter of the politician, without the bombast of the preacher, without structure, and without notes. He just had a few istories to tell, and as he talked, almost accidentally these stories laced themselves together into a narrative about leadership and character. It was a simple message, perfectly delivered. A strength such as this is intimidating. For the audience, the General’s performance stood far above basic analysis. We didn’t want to ask, “Where did he learn this?” because it was quite obvi— 39 THE ANATOMY OF A STRENGTH ous that neither Toast Masters nor Dale Carnegie had anything to do with his performance. Instead, we wanted to know “Where did this come from?” as though the performance was not being cre- - ated by General Powell but was being channeled through him, flawless and sublime. All strengths have this quality. Stand in front of a Monet for a few moments, and it appears complete, like a circle. You don’t imagine a tentative beginning, a slew of clumsy crossings—out in the middle, and a last brush stroke to finish the painting. You ex- perience it as a whole, all—at—once perfection. The strength doesn’t have to be artistic to be intimidating. Any near perfect performance stimulates this same feeling of awe. A friend tells a joke with timing and flare, and you wonder “How did he do that?” A colleague writes a client letter that is both focused and intriguing, and you ask yourself the same thing. And it is not just the “nearperfect” aspect of a strength that so impresses us; the “consistent” part is equally amazing. Cal Ripken played in 2,216 consecutive baseball games. How did he manage that? Bettina K., one of Disney World’s best housekeepers, has cleaned the same section of rooms in the same hotel for more than twenty—one years. How does she stick with it? Before his death in February 2000, Charles Schulz had drawn the same cartoon strip, Peanuts, for over forty—one years. How did he do that? Whether the question is “How does he do it so well?” or “How does he do it for so long?” any consistently near perfect perfor— mance seems almost too amazing to analyze. But, of course, strengths do not emerge perfect and whole. Each person’s strengths are created—developed from some very specific raw materials. You can acquire some materials, your knowledge and skills, with practice and learning; others, your talents, you simply have to hone. 40 ...
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Buckingham & Clifton, “Now Discover Your Strengths,” Excerpts

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