Catalyst: Marcus Buckingham

Day One, Session Two was Marcus Buckingham. If you’ve ever read/used a Gallup Poll on management or leadership, this guy probably had something to do with it. The big thesis from his presentation was spend more time playing to your strengths. Apparently, the most successful companies encourage playing to employees’ strengths over correcting their weaknesses. So maybe it’s worth a try transplanting that to working in ministry teams. Some of what he had to say, however, came off as kinda cheesy management psycho-babble. So, I think the best approach for this entry is to outline what he said and throw in my $0.02 (italicized) under each bullet point.

  • All great teams have a great manager/boss.
    • Not an issue of “Oh, our company’s strength is our corporate culture.” Because organizations have as many cultures as they do managers. Each manager creates a slightly different subculture based on their personality.
    • Ok, I’m tracking so far.
  • People often quit their boss as a predecessor to quitting that job.
    • If it’s true, then that’s a little bit of pressure for those in leadership.
    • Gotta keep my intern happy!
  • All great managers have general principles for how to get the best out of people.
    • On the face of it, sounds kind of like treating people as a means to an end. But I’ll go with it, see where he’s going.
  • To manage: turn someone’s talent into performance.
    • A catalyst and streamlining agent in the process of Person –> Talent –> Performance –> Team’s Goals
    • Still sensing the ‘means over ends’ dilemma.
  • Was your best manager soft on you?
    • Shouldn’t have been. They most likely believed in your potential and held you to a standard of excellence.
    • Ok, this is where I start seeing the means/ends conflict resolved. You value the person for their individuality. You believe in them. Holding them to excellence is a compliment.
  • The best managers do this naturally. They’re not motivated chiefly by “what makes for good business sense.”
    • Well, I’m no natural, but at least I can agree with the motivation aspect.
  • If you can’t do, then teach, and it that doesn’t work, consult.
    • Tangent-joke for all the business junkies to laugh at… mildly amusing.
  • Great managers look at people as an end unto themselves.
    • Find a way to help someone’s talent turn into performance.
    • This is good. I personally fall on the ‘ends’ end of the spectrum. In my notes, I have an arrow connecting this point with the ‘streamlining agent’ point with “Contradiction?” written in between them. My guess is that he’s on the assumption that an employee who feels like their strengths are actually getting something done will be internally satisfied. And we want happy employees.
  • Find out what’s unique about each person and capitalize on it.
    • The best managers are not big on generalizing.
    • When you ask a manager what they do or their team does, the best ones will want to tell you stories about the individuals on that team, stories that illustrate each person’s strengths.
    • This is not the easy road.
    • “I have 10 individuals who just happen to be youth ministry volunteers.”
  • 41% of Americans in a 2001 Gallup survey preferred building on strengths over fixing weaknesses as a means for improving productivity/success/satisfaction.
  • Same survey asked, “What is the key topic in the majority of conversations with your manager?”
    • 36% — Weaknesses
    • 40% — Oh, we don’t talk about those things
    • 24% — Strengths
  • The phrase “our people are our greatest asset” really should be “our people’s strengths are our greatest asset.”
    • Sounds nice to me. I can go with it. I’ve met with my intern to begin exploring how our individual strengths should dictate the tasks in our workloads. This is probably the biggest impact that Buckingham’s presentation made on me.
    • I don’t always feel like my organization believes it. But a church job description is so varied. Hard to allow a high degree of strengths specialization in non-profit orgs… :-P
  • But sadly, this isn’t the way companies see things. Why?
    • US workers say they spend an average of 14% of their day playing to their strengths. (& in the UK: 9%)
  • Why aren’t you playing to your strengths?
    • Sometimes, it’s the company’s mandate. Sometimes, you’ve got bad myths in your head. Are any of the following present?
      • Myth 1: As you grow, your personality changes.
      • Myth 2: You’ll grow the most in your weakest areas.
      • Myth 3: The team needs you to chip in and sacrifice and do whatever it takes to get the job done. Be well-rounded (a “liberal-arts” as opposed to “university” approach to team-structuring)
    • Well here’s what you need to understand to correct those myths…
      • Fact 1: You become more and more who you already really are.
      • Fact 2: Weaknesses are the area of least opportunity.
      • Fact 3: The best teams are made of people who stand up for their strengths and volunteer them to the team.
    • Myth/Fact pairings 1 and 2 seem kinda vague to me. Maybe I just don’t know enough about developmental psychology. So they just come off as psycho-babble. Kinda like Buckingham building a straw man in the Myths to assert what he wants to state in the Facts.
    • But Myth/Fact 3 is cool. And the stupid well-rounded thing is so prevalent in our education system, all the way down to elementary schools. What if we had awesome assessment tools and started letting students specialize at such young ages?
  • “And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight in the bud became greater than the risk it took to blossom.” -Anais Nin
    • A dare to begin the pursuit of playing to our strengths. I like it!
    • From a couple other thinkers I’m more familiar with:
    • “During the first period of a man’s life the greatest danger is not to take the risk.” -Soren Kierkegaard
    • “Only those willing to risk going too far can find out how far they can go.” -T.S. Eliot

4 responses to “Catalyst: Marcus Buckingham

  1. I always have to hold back vomit when people start bring bussiness practice to the church. The goals of becoming more Wholly (holy) is almost the oppsite of this let’s play to our strengths, makes this run better, bring more people, help people find their ends, junk. I personally think Eugene Peterson has spoke so much to this area for me that is almost disgusiting how much the church wants to run like a bussiness.
    But that is my crazy ass two cents. HA.

  2. I too don’t think church should run like a business.

    But what’s the harm in taking a piece of Buckingham’s message? I don’t think it’s all that bad to play to our strengths to make things run better (referring to a ministry staff, not referring to empowering the congregation as a whole). I deviate from the model you that dislike when it comes to the “bring more people” part. That’s the attractional model. I definitely favor missional over attractional.

    You can be missional and still want to have a ministry team that operates well together. How much more can you be the incarnate presence of Christ when you and those laboring beside you are energized by knowing that your role in ministry is centered around how your Father has uniquely gifted you?

    What has Peterson said? His words undoubtedly carry more credibility than anything Buckingham has to offer when specifically talking about ministry work environments.

    And what did you mean by “Wholly (holy)”?

  3. Hey buddy,
    I will pull together some of that person stuff but if you search my blog with his name you might find some older stuff that pertains. Wholly (holy) is just my small and ignorant attempt to pull some of the focus off of holy being sinning less, and placing more on becoming more completely in God and fully living the incarnationial presence in this world.

  4. Oh I dig the wholly concept now that you explain it!

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