For this week's newsletter, I interviewed New York Times bestselling author and renowned workplace expert Marcus Buckingham. For the past twenty-five years, Buckingham has been the world's leading researcher into strengths, human performance, and the future of how people work. He is the author of two of the best-selling business books of all time, and has been the subject of in-depth profiles in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Forbes, Fortune, Fast Company, The Today Show, and The Oprah Winfrey Show.
After spending two decades studying excellence at the Gallup Organization and co-creating the StrengthsFinder tool, he built his own Coaching + Education firm, The Marcus Buckingham Company. As CEO, he quickly turned it into a Human Capital Management company working with some of the world’s largest organizations. He is known as the world’s most prominent researcher on strengths and leadership at work, and today leads research at the ADP Research Institute.
In our conversation, we discussed Buckingham’s new book, LOVE + WORK. In the book, Buckingham makes the compelling case that the struggle we’re collectively experiencing stems in large part from a lack of love in our work lives. Timely, instructive, and hopeful, LOVE + WORK reframes how we think about work and the role that love plays in our efforts to create fulfilling careers and lives.
Read on for Buckingham’s insights about this important topic.
1. What is the one message you hope readers take away from LOVE + WORK?
The one message I hope readers leave with is that your loves are real. Inside of you are loves that are part of a pattern that you share with no one. They are a gift that you — and only you — can contribute during your lifetime. And your life should be an ongoing scavenger hunt for ways in which you can express those loves to the rest of us. You are completely unique, and no one will ever, or could ever, shine the way that you do. I hope that this book can give you the tools to demystify the unique strengths and loves that are inside of you.
2. Why do we need to completely redesign the way we do work in 2022?
Work (and school, for that matter) isn’t working. It wasn’t working before the pandemic, and it certainly isn’t working now. We need only look at the falling rates of Employee Engagement and Workplace Resilience to see that organizations have designed completely loveless workplaces. All sectors of the economy are struggling to fill vacancies, and attempting to lure workers with signing bonuses and office perks clearly isn’t enough.
The real problem is that jobs are often stressful, meaningless, and unlovable — again, by their very design. If you design a job thinking that no one could possibly love it, you’ll be correct. But if you acknowledge that every individual has unique and beautiful strengths, and if your organization spends time and energy cultivating those strengths and leaning into each person’s loves, you’ll start seeing improvements in retention, engagement, and performance.
3. You talk about finding our “red threads” throughout the book — what are these and how can we discover and utilize them to explore the best path for us in work and in life?
Red threads are the moments, the activities, and the situations that light up your day — whether at your job or at home. We don’t necessarily need complex positive psychology theories to identify these specific activities we love. But when you find yourself disappearing into an activity — looking forward to it all day, time rushes by while you’re doing it, and you wish it would never end — use your emotional reaction to the raw material of your life to pinpoint these activities. And start to weave more and more of them into your day, because that’s the key to finding love in your work.
4. What does an effective team look like when each member is primed to be a mirror, an amplifier, of the loves of another?
The thesis of this work is that you will be your best self when you demystify and contribute that which you love. A team comprised of individuals who consistently examine their loves and share them with each other is a team that will be more engaged and productive than one filled with members who are regularly “sucking it up,” volunteering to contribute their weaknesses for “the good of the team,” and finding themselves less engaged, resilient, and happy for it.
We grow in response to other peoples’ reactions, so recognizing a team member’s strengths — something that seemed to come easily to them, a project they instinctively volunteered for and then knocked out of the park, a difficult conversation that left them energized — will always be the best way to get more of that performance. And a whole team that does that? That is, focusing on the good of each team member, looking for ways to help each person express the very best of them — even, yes, when some undesired tasks still need to get done — that team is unstoppable.
5. What advice do you have for leaders to energize their team this year?
Energizing your people is so much simpler than the world makes it out to be. It comes down to taking an interest in each person, as a whole person. Ask about their loves, their strengths, when time flew by. Ask about the tasks they don’t look forward to — with no judgement — and find ways to give them more of what they love, and less of what they dislike. Ask, “What are you working on, and how can I help?” to each person on your team, once a week, every week — and see the positive changes that take place.