I read Marcus Buckingham’s The Truth About You over the weekend. It’s directed toward 17-25 year olds who are getting ready to leave school and decide what to do with their lives, but since I’ve found myself at a starting-over point professionally, it was also quite relevant to me.
Buckingham says, instead of thinking of your strengths and weaknesses in terms of what you do well, think about what strengthens you — makes you more effective, productive, creative, contented — and what weakens you. You can learn to do things, he says, you can increase your skills, but you can’t change these central things about yourself.
You spend a week scribbling down the things you’re doing when you realize that you’re in the zone and when you realize that you’re totally out of the zone, and boil these reactions down to your primary strengths and weaknesses.
Then, Buckingham says, you don’t do what you’ve always done with that information. That is, you don’t decide to work on your weaknesses. Instead, you consistently play to your strengths, and you partner with people whose strengths complement your weaknesses, thus creating a well-rounded team. Forget about making yourself a well-rounded person.
Reading this made me think about the Medical School job (which I was not offered; they also haven’t said they don’t want me, but I figure by now they would have offered it if they were going to). There I was talking with the Web People and hearing that though the job involved doing repetitive tasks in a basement, it was a really friendly, jolly place where everyone worked together very closely and had lots of meetings, as though that were a good thing. I think we all know that hanging out with friendly coworkers isn’t a big part of my perfect workday, however nice it may be in the abstract, or indeed on special occasions. Meetings and repetitive tasks also figure largely on my list of things I don’t like.
(Not my list of aversions. #1 daughter made the excellent point that agoraphobes like us can’t decide not to do things because we find them unpleasant).
I thought specifically about meetings, too. My perfect workday does include client meetings. And yet I hate committee meetings most of the time. By using Buckingham’s model, I can get past “I loathe meetings” to “One of my strengths is working with other people to meet goals.” I’m just no good at hanging out with people talking about goals we’re not actually working toward. It was this insight that made me take a different approach to yesterday’s meeting, in fact. And yet, a meeting composed entirely of highly goal-directed, efficient people might rush into things unwisely, so having more thoughtful, ruminative types on the team as well can create a good balance.
So it seems to me that The Truth About You offers a more useful means of identifying strengths and weaknesses than most career-oriented books, and a much better approach to teambuilding. Buckingham is the author of First, Break All the Rules, a popular business book which I’ve not yet read, but plan to. He’s also a very effective speaker. #2 son said the DVD that came with the book looked rehearsed, but I don’t see how we can hold that against a DVD. I know what he means, because I thought when I started watching it that Buckingham was an actor portraying a corporate trainer in a drama of some kind. Nope. He’s the actual speaker — just more handsome than most. The DVD is well done, the book is pithy and practical, and there is a cute little pad for writing down your “love it/loathe it” insights. I think this could be a good present for a young person facing those “whither?” decisions — or for an older one, even.