October 2, 2010

Strengths / Weaknesses a la Marcus Buckingham

I've been aware of the Myers-Briggs personality type system, as well as several other personality typing systems (DISC, Enneagrams, etc.), since high school. I've studied them off and on and I tend to find the MBTi system the most helpful. But one thing that I've always struggled with is helping other people figure out what they are. I'll observe them over time and determine that they're such and such only to suggest as much to them, they take an online test to verify, and it comes out Completely Different than what I had suggested. But when someone who rarely speaks in public, consorts only with a small group of close friends, and who only gets really animated when talking about a subject he feels really strongly about takes the test and tells me he's an E, I start to wonder how the test could have pegged him so poorly.

What I've tried to encourage people to do is to ignore what they think people expect of them, or what behaviors they might have to display at work, and focus on what comes naturally to them when they're on vacation or over the weekend. Theoretically that should help them get test results that are a little closer to their natural personality type rather than the personality that's expected of them at work or in other settings and that they feel they need to live up to. 

But Marcus Buckingham, a speaker that I heard just last week (more on that here), has given me a new way to encourage people to determine their own personality types (or as Buckingham describes it, their strengths and weaknesses). He says that after an activity (it doesn't matter if it was in a group or alone, planned or spontaneous) we should evaluate the activity (or even the various parts of the activity) by determining whether we loved it or loathed it. If we loved it, then there's very likely something about that activity that played to our strengths. If we loathed it, then we were probably called upon to perform in a way that draws from our weaknesses. 

The example he gave is that he recently attended a party with a lot of very famous people in attendance. Theoretically it should have been a great event that he would have enjoyed. But he loathed it. So he took that piece of information and tried to dial down to what exactly he loathed about it and found that he loathes mingling with people. (The description that he gave of how he felt while mingling described an introvert quite well.) On the other hand, he recently had to interview a woman that was a housekeeper at a hotel. The interview lasted about 30-45 minutes and by the end he realized that he had loved the experience. So he examined that reaction and determined that he really enjoys getting to know people on a deeper level. 

Buckingham pointed out that just because you're good at something doesn't mean it's one of your strengths. You can be very good at something and still feel utterly drained by it at the end. Your ability to do the task well is therefore probably more a function of training and experience than innate ability or desire. According to his definition of a strength, what is important is not what we're good at so much as what energizes us. He gave an acronym that described this: SIGN

Success: When we're done, do we feel successful?
Instinct: What are we instinctively drawn to? 
Growth: How do you feel when you're doing it? Is there a flow? Do you feel that you've grown?
Need: Does it feel like you've filled a need?

Obviously, what you're weak in will most likely leave you feeling unsuccessful, or you may not feel drawn to it at all - even if you have to do the job for some reason, or you'll feel stilted, or like the entire thing could have proceeded just fine without your input or help. 

Buckingham also made a great suggestion for how to make the best of a situation that you usually find draining. He explained that though he hates mingling, he loves interviewing people. So instead of going to a party and mingling with 10 or 20 people, he'll find a person, interview them for awhile, find another person, interview them, find a third person and interview them. At that point he's had enough of talking with people and he heads for home. So when you're caught in a situation that plays to your weaknesses, find a way to insert your strengths into the picture. 


  1. interesting. sounds like a good idea, the way he suggests approaching it - getting in touch with our feelings about stuff. because there's probably all sorts of areas where people have shut out how they feel about stuff and bowed to the pressure around them - like if you're very introverted, you're likely to experience pressure to conform to society's norms and be more sociable than you're comfortable with, and if you've been doing that for decades then you probably don't even know that you hate it.

  2. How great that you got to hear Buckingham! I think his work is powerful, and a tool I try to use on all the teams that I work with. He's also a great speaker. I've gone through the books he worked on while still with Gallup, and think you might find them interesting. We also use the related Strengths Explorer with Katie and recently Ally, and Jill and I bring up our strengths often when working through issues.

  3. yeah, i thought of you when i was writing about him.

    i still prefer MBTi to his 9 personality types. he seems to squish all of introversion into the creator type. i also prefer the ability with MBTi to focus in on aspects of a personality and see clearly how they match or don't match the other personality types.

    but i really liked his explanation of how you find your strengths and i totally agree with him that you should focus on your strengths rather than your weaknesses. (in fact, i was pretty shocked at the numbers he gave in terms of people who think it's more important to focus on weaknesses instead of strengths.)

  4. You did a great job of summing his stuff up, Meg!

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