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My Year of Hopefulness – Marcus Buckingham Workshop Session 3: What is Strengths Training?

Most companies have just completed their annual employee reviews. There are few other times of the year that cause more anxiety and induce more fear at work. Does my boss really like me? What have I screwed up? And what is going, in black and white, into my file, never to be undone?


It’s with good reason that many people feel this way. Historically, performance reviews focus on areas of improvement (aka – stuff we’re not good at) rather than areas of strength (aka – our greatest assets.) Very slowly, that’s beginning to change thanks to people like Marcus Buckingham who advocate for a focus on strengths. 

In session 3 of his on-line workshop, Marcus talks about his belief that focusing on strengths yields a far better outcome than focusing on areas of improvement. 72% of people feel an emotional high from their jobs once a month. Marcus pushes all of us to consider how we can go from once a month to all of the time. In order to get us there, he asks us to follow this plan:

1.) Bust the myths

2.) Get clear on what strengthens and weakens you, not on your strengths and weaknesses (though it’s possible that those things could overlap). Most people think that someone else is a better judge of their own strengths and weaknesses than they are. This conclusion is logical because of the current structure of performance reviews at most large companies. Because we report to a boss in a hierarchy, that boss is traditionally given the authority to tell us what we’re good at and what we’re bad at, and judge us based on that. (This is taken as gospel regardless of the fact that our boss may be less educated, less experiences, and not as talented.) Marcus thinks this is crazy – people with at least an average level of self-awareness (which is nearly everyone) is very conscious of what their strengths and weaknesses are and is the best judge of them. That’s why it’s often an interview question! In performance reviews, we too often hand over the power to define us to someone else. 

3.) Plan your strong week. Do things that invigorate you, not drain you, as often as you can. Almost every job has elements that we don’t like but are necessary. Tilt the floor to fill up as much of our time as possible with the activities that invigorate us. This is called strength training.    

My Year of Hopefulness – Marcus Buckingham Workshop Session 2: Where Are You Now?

A few weeks after we went through the introductory session of Marcus Buckingham’s on-line workshop, I finally sat down to go through session 2. Why such a gap right? Schedules, yes, but there was a larger reason to. Fear – fear of finding and discovering something new and different. Fear of change. 


Sometimes it’s easier, at least in the near-term, to bury our heads in the sand and pretend everything’s fine. That no improvements can or should be made. Change is painful, though it’s so necessary in the long-run. Progress requires giving up the familiar and that brings with it a certain amount of anxiety. No time for dallying now – we had to jump in and get on with it. Change is coming so we might as well greet it politely at the front door rather than waiting for it to huff and puff and blow our house down. 

Session 2: Most people believe that when we consider our performance in life that we will become better people if we focus on improving our weaknesses. Marcus has a fundamentally different view. His advice is to build on our strengths and manage around our weaknesses. A meager 12% of people spend the majority of their day playing to their strengths. He’s willing to give you from 8am – 11am, 25% of your day to play to things we aren’t good at. And then the rest of the day must be spent on strengths.

In our society, we believe that if we study and learn about negatives, we will glean some miraculous insight into the positives. We study disease to learn about health, depression to learn about happiness and joy. There have 40,000 studies done on the topic of depression and only 400 on joy. The equation and our focus on weakness and negativity is sadly and badly tipped in the wrong direction. “You study “bad” and invert it, you don’t get “good”. You get “not bad.” And “not bad” is not good enough. It won’t give us energy. It won’t make all our hard work worthwhile. And it certainly won’t make us happy. 

There are a lot of people out there right now who hate their jobs. Even though they’re grateful for the income with all the layoffs going on, they hate what they do. And that’s the key. The three questions to ask ourselves when examining our jobs are:

1.) Why is this job important to me?
2.) Who am I going to be working with?
3.) What am I actually going to be doing?

When the “what” goes wrong, it effects the “who” and the “why”. So in these times when we may be looking for a new job, the question to ask is the “what” question.  To help answer that, it’s best to take a look at what invigorates us and what drains us, and then go for what invigorates us.

Suze Orman offers up a free financial guide for 2009

You’re panicked about 2009, and rightly so. The predictions for the economy are dire. We can’t hole up in our homes, under the bed, and wait for sunnier skies. We still need to get up and out into the world, no matter how gruesome it may be. So how exactly are we going to find the strength to do that? How are we going to squelch the anxiety all around us and within us?


Information is power. Suze Orman was on the Today Show this morning and has created a free guide for protecting your financial position in 2009. You don’t have to pay a penny for it and can download it in seconds right on to your desktop. But hurry – it’s only available until January 15, 2009. As usual it has a personable voice, straight-forward advice, and is well-organized. We’d expect nothing less from Suze. 

Get your guide, read every word, and follow her advice:  http://www.oprah.com/article/oprahshow/20081119_tows_bookdownload

My Year of Hopefulness – Marcus Buckingham Workshop Session 1: Introduction

I’ve previously written about Marcus Buckingham on this blog – his writing has been very influential on the way I live my life and build my career. He is a career guru and has dedicated his life to helping people live their best lives. Oprah recently featured him on one of her shows. He did a three-hour workshop with a group of women who want to improve their lives from a career standpoint. These women felt overwhelmed, anxious, off balance, and sometimes very unhappy with their jobs.


As a gift to viewers who want to live their best lives in 2009, Marcus Buckingham and Oprah filmed the entire three hours session, broke it down into 8 different classes, and put all of them on-line for free with resources and class materials. You can download them to your ipod, watch them, or listen to them on your computer. It’s as if you are sitting in a classroom with one of the most world-renowned thinkers on living a strengths-based life. And it’s incredible. 

I just completed session 1 – The Introduction with two of my friends, John and Ellen. Three basic question for everyone in the class: What is your name? What are you paid to do? Why are you here? As part of this blog, I will detail what I’m thinking, experiencing, and feeling in each one of these classes and John and Ellen have agreed to allow me to share the specifics of their situations on this blog. 

To take the class, please visit the link on Oprah’s website: http://www.oprah.com/package/money/career/pkgmarcus/20080401_orig_marcusbuckingham

Here is my own mini-class that will be featured on this blog:
Name: Christa
Paid to do?: Product Development
Here because?: My day is filled with lots of tasks I don’t want to do

Name: John
Paid to do?: Graphic Design
Here because?: Feels like he is wasting time with a company that has no advancement opportunities. Job is mostly executional, not strategic. Culture is siloed and not collaborative. A lot of in-fighting at his current firm. Many people don’t want the responsibility of making decisions, but want credit when something goes right. 

Name: Ellen
Paid to do?: Nonprofit fundraiser
Here because?: Doesn’t feel that her current company is creative, innovative, or motivated to improve. Decision-making processes in the organization are very slow and misguided. Her opinions are not listened to by her boss. She works with great people, though is not enjoying working for her boss as there is very little mentorship. 

Once a week, I will be sharing our stories as we continue through the remaining sessions of this class with Marcus Buckingham. If you decide to take it and would like to share your thoughts on the classes, I’d love to have you comment on this blog! Here’s to living our best lives in 2009!

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