Book Brief: GO Put Your Strengths to Work by Marcus Buckingham

Book Number 6 on my Book-a-Week list for 2011 – GO Put Your Strengths to Work by Marcus Buckingham


This book was a fun and enlightening read for an action-oriented, strengths-loving person like me! Buckingham outlines six very clear steps to achieve outstanding performance through truly leveraging your strengths. Each of the six steps is represented by a chapter, complete with tools, templates and even accompanying video, available on-line, to help you take action on the steps. Throughout the book, Buckingham references the story of Heidi, a top-notch brand director for the Hampton Hotels chain, who finds herself burned out on her work because she is working in her areas of greatest weakness most of the time, instead of her strengths. Happily, through applying the process described in the book, Heidi learns to transform her current role so that she can leverage her greatest strengths. In doing so, she not only finds her joy again, she also produces much greater results for her company.

Buckingham’s 6 Steps to achieve outstanding performance include:

  1. Bust the Myths: Myth #1 is that as you grow, your personality changes. In truth, as we grow, we become more of who we already are. Myth #2 is that you will grow the most in your areas of greatest weakness. In truth, we grow the most by leveraging our greatest strengths. Myth #3 is that a good team member does whatever it takes to help the team. In truth, being “well rounded” is not the best way to serve your team, but rather by focusing the most on what you are really good at, so you can help the team truly excel.
  2. Get Clear: This is about really knowing what your strengths are, which only you can decide. Buckingham references the 4 signs of a true strength: Success in doing it; Instinct, meaning you are instinctually drawn to it; Growth, meaning you easily learn and grow when doing this type of activity; Needs, meaning this type of activity is one of your greatest personal satisfactions. Note the first letter of each of the 4 signs spells out the word SIGN.
  3. Free Your Strengths: This is about making the most of the activities that strengthen you. Buckingham recommends writing Strengths Statements that help you define the specific areas in which you “feel strong.” Heidi’s #1 strengths statement reads: “I feel strong when I help a hotel manager take a good hotel, or hotel group, and make it #1.” This was an eye-opening discovery for Heidi because what she had been spending her time on was just the opposite: trying to help struggling hotels get their performance up to an acceptable level. She found this activity to be extremely draining. Again, Buckingham uses a four-letter word, this time FREE, to describe the steps in this model: Focus, Release, Educate and Expand.
  4. Stop Your Weaknesses: This step is about making sure you are very clear about all those activities that drain you, or as Buckingham puts it, “make you feel weak” so that you can avoid them whenever possible. It’s important to not assume that just because you hate doing something, that so does everyone else. I recently led a team meeting centered around understanding and leveraging talents and strengths. In the discussion of tasks and who should be doing what based on their strengths, one woman blurted out, “I hate doing all this paperwork!” The team member sitting next to her replied, “Really? I love doing paperwork. Can you teach me how to do yours?” While we have to be careful not to appear as though we want to dump the rotten jobs on to everyone else, it is important to recognize the activities that drain you and figure out ways to get rid of them, or at the very least, minimize the amount of time you spend doing them. Again, a 4-letter word (STOP) to help you remember how to do this step: Stop doing the activity all together and see if anyone notices; Team Up with others who are strengthened by this activity; Offer Up a strength of yours and steer your job toward it; Perceive your weakness from a different perspective.
  5. Speak Up: Share your strengths and weaknesses in your work team, and encourage others to do the same. Buckingham outlines specific steps and even scripts for what can be very challenging conversations, especially when having them with your boss.
  6. Build Strong Habits: This step is about making the strengths focus last. Buckingham suggests things like: Every day look over your three Strength Statements and your three Weakness Statements; Every week complete a Strong Week Plan; Every quarter look back at how well you used your strengths.


I enjoyed this book because it builds on the other books I’ve been devouring lately related to maximizing strengths. The story of Heidi made Buckingham’s 6  steps particularly real and compelling. The happy ending for Heidi was great affirmation that we must all take care to do what we are best at and love the most. It’s the only way our unique purpose can truly be fulfilled. 

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