Go Put Your Strengths to Work:  Six powerful steps to achieve outstanding success

Reviewed by: 
Marcus Buckingham
Simon & Schuster UK Ltd
Alistair Schofield, Managing Director, Extensor Limited

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In his first book, “First, Break All The Rules”, Marcus Buckingham and his co-author Curt Coffman stumbled across something that was to become a phenomenon in its own right, namely the “strength movement”.  That book was based on research by Gallup into the criteria that can be used to measure employee satisfaction.  At the heart of the research was a realisation that the best managers concentrate on building on people’s strengths, rather than trying to address their weaknesses.

In his second book “Now, Discover Your Strengths”, co-authored with Donald Clifton, Buckingham laid out a process for identifying a person’s core strengths with tips and advice as to how to best apply them.
“Go Put Your Strengths To Work” is therefore the third book in the series and is designed to aid the reader in creating an action plan for developing their strengths and applying them more effectively in their work and their lives in general.

In common with a lot of books these days, the book incorporates an access code for an on-line questionnaire that aims to assess the degree to which you are utilising your strengths at present, and the potential you have for increasing the use of your strengths in the future.  I was not particularly impressed with either the questionnaire or the results, but it may prove helpful to some people if it encourages them to think more deeply about their work and job satisfaction.

The rest of the book consists of a 6-step guide to achieving higher levels of performance, with each section including its own goal and exercises.  In essence it is designed to act as a self-administered training and development programme.

In summary, the six steps are as follows:

Busting the Myths – Buckingham begins with an overview of the “strengths movement,” which has swept through business and non-profit worlds alike.  What distinguishes the movement is the fact that it focuses not on the study of failures, but on the pursuit of excellence. Buckingham argues that people in the workplace largely obsess about their weaknesses instead of capitalising on their strengths.

Capture, Clarify and Confirm – The second step requires the reader to define personal strengths, which comprise talent, skill and knowledge.  However, Buckingham points out that it is difficult to precisely define a strength.  Simply put, Buckingham writes, “Your strengths are those activities that make you feel strong.”

Set Your Strengths Free – In the third step Buckingham asks readers to consider how they can make the most of their strengths.  He uses the acronyms FREE to represents four sequential strategies.  F is for Focus (identifying a specific strength), R is for Release (finding missed opportunities), the first E is for Educate (learning new strength-building skills), and the second E is for Expand (building your job around this strength).

Put a Stop to Weaknesses – This step is similar to step two, which focused on strengths, but uses the same techniques to focus on weaknesses.  Just as strengths are things that make you feel strong, weaknesses are activities that make you feel weak.  The objective therefore is to consider ways of minimising the amount of time you have to spend on such activities.

Speaking Up – Focusing on your strengths and spending less time on your weaknesses may seem obvious, but if your boss and the people around you don’t know what you are doing then you may experience real difficulty in achieving your objective.  However, even for the most self-confident of people, speaking up can still be intimidating.  Buckingham therefore offers some helpful suggestions as to ways to initiate strength-based conversations.

Building Strong Habits – In this final step Buckingham offers the reader advice on how to remain focused on being strength-based.  Although I found this section rather trite, it remains a fact that to be effective we all need to commit good practice to habit.  The principle is therefore sound but I would encourage the reader to develop their own plan of action.

In conclusion, “Go Put Your Strengths to Work” is nowhere near as profound a book as “First, Break All the Rules”.  It is however a useful contribution to the discussion on self-development and a book that I would readily recommend to anyone looking for assistance on improving their personal effectiveness, especially if they have also read the middle book in the series “Now, Discover Your Strengths”.

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