Clarity the Antidote to Anxiety - IEDP
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Clarity the Antidote to Anxiety

Event Review: Marcus Buckingham's core message is that it is better, far better, to develop people's strengths than fix their weaknesses.

Wednesday 15 September 2010


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Marcus Buckingham started his career as a researcher polling businesses on their management abilities for the Gallup Organisation; today he is a much sought management speaker and holds slot number 25 in the Thinkers 50 list. It is, though, his researcher roots that make him interesting.

His insights into management are based on very extensive research. As he says "at Gallup if you had an idea you could try it out by asking......everybody!" His book What Great Managers Do Differently was based on 88,000 interviews by the organisation. Buckingham's core message is that it is better, far better, to develop people's strengths than fix their weaknesses.

"Strength is a multiplier - develop strengths and you will get a better return than from developing weaknesses"

Yesterday Buckingham was in Manchester at an event of over 350 executives run by Benchmark for Business. The morning session was given to Daniel Pink, Al Gore's former speechwriter and Buckingham held the floor for two and a half hours in the afternoon. Maybe it is a British thing, but Buckingham stands out in the guru speaker roster for his relaxed and self-deprecating delivery. He

does not display the high energy passion that many give out from the stage, but rather a gentler approach with a mocking eye for the ludicrous - which went down well with his UK audience.

The central core of his presentation was on building strengths but he made some interesting remarks on the old managers vs leaders saw. He had two question sets :

What is the chief job of a manager and what do managers do? And the same for leaders. Buckingham sees the manager's job as the more complex (but not necessarily the more difficult).

The manager's job is to turn one person's personality into performance - that is to draw together all the strengths and weaknesses of an individual and get the best out of them in terms of maximising their contribution to the team. How do they do that? "They need to find what is unique and capitalise on it"

The leader's job, Buckingham suggests, is to rally people to a better future, to focus them on a goal and take them their together. (He also points out that the opposite of a leader is a pessimist - the nay-sayers.) And to do this "you'd better have an ego or self-assurance". What do leader's do? "They must find what is universal and capitalise on it".

The job definitions are pretty good, the "do" ones leave many questions. Buckingham recognises this, plenty of individuals will not have sufficiently "unique" talents but only comparatively strong ones. The universal element is probably closer to the mark again. He followed up with the observation that "to be a good leader you need to be clear; articulate your goals - as clarity is the antidote to anxiety". 

For clarity you need to understand what you do and how you do it either extremely well or believe it extremely determinedly. That is, you do not necessarily need to be right but you do need to be clear to lead the organisation. Obviously it is much better to be right though.

 He suggested four simple questions to help gain that clarity for leading your organisation:

  1. who do we serve? (who is our single most important stakeholder?)
  2. what's our core strength? (you don't have five but one, maybe two at a stretch)
  3. what's our core score? (what one, possibly two at most, metric do we need to measure ourselves by?)
  4. what actions can we take today?

Further details on Benchmark for Business events can be found on their website.

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