Now, Discover Your Strengths: Book Review; Nov'07

Title:Now, Discover Your Strengths

Author:Marcus Buckingham, Donald O. Clifton

Publication details:  Pocket books, Great Britain, 2005

Number of pages:262 pages


To motivate your team members to give superior performance you must correct their weaknesses right? Wrong! As per the book “Now, Discover Your Strengths”, focusing on their strengths is far more effective in achieving success than eliminating their weaknesses. Based on interviews conducted by Gallup of over 1.7 million employees the authors introduces a positive approach for discovering, focusing and using strengths and talents to create personal and professional success.

The authors consider the following two assumptions on which they think most organizations are built flawed and provide alternate assumptions they think are right.
“Each person can learn to be competent in almost anything.
Each person’s greatest room for growth is in his or her areas of greatest weakness.”

The statement “Spontaneous reactions, yearnings, rapid learnings and satisfactions will all help you detect the traces of your talents.” is quite useful for zeroing in on our talents. The book maintains that while with sufficient practice we might be able to learn different tasks well, we will never be great in these areas unless we have a natural innate talent for them.

Each copy of the book contains a unique ID code that allows you to take a Web-based interview (StrengthsFinder) that is fairly easy to take. This analyzes your instinctive reactions and presents you with your five most powerful signature themes like Achiever, Activator, Empathy, Futuristic, or Strategic. Once you know which of the 34 themes you lead with, the book shows you how to leverage them for powerful results at three levels: for your own development, for your success as a manager, and for the success of your organization.

The book reinforces a lot of unique ideas first published in Marcus Buckingham’s best selling book “First Break All The Rules”, ideas like manager being the most influential person for an employee’s stickiness to an organization, individualization (treating individual employees differently rather the same way to take care of their individual needs) etc.

It also provides a step by step strength based approach for developing and managing 3 HR processes viz., selection, performance management and career development. Here, I found some of the suggestions to be radical but credible. For instance in performance management system it talks about every manager holding a “strength discussion” rather than a “development discussion” with his team member. While the former is focused on how the employee’s strengths can be utilized at work, the latter typically focuses on areas of improvement. However, industry data of how companies have applied it practically for HR processes and benefited would have been useful for HR practioners.

This resourceful book is easy to read with its short concise chapters, varied examples and interesting case studies.  The report of my signature themes was a little too brief, nevertheless very useful.

If you are wondering is it OK to ignore our weaknesses then do note that the book does acknowledge that any weakness which comes in the way of superior performance needs to be minimized. For instance the book gives the example of Bill Gates. His genius at taking innovation and transforming them into user friendly applications is a “strength” whereas his ability to built an enterprise in the face of legal and commercial assault as compared to his partner Steve Balmer, is not. So he selected Steve Balmer to run the company allowing him to return to software development. Thus, the important message it imparts is…. “Capitalize on your strengths… and mange around your weaknesses.”