Trying To Overcome A Weakness? This Man Says, 'Please, Stop'
By Mark Borden; Marcus Buckingham

(FORTUNE Magazine) – From that first report card to the last performance review, most people spend lots of time trying to correct their weaknesses. Marcus Buckingham's new book, Now, Discover Your Strengths (Free Press, $26), sets out to refocus their energy. The sequel to last year's bestselling First, Break All the Rules, it advocates focusing on strengths to render weaknesses unimportant. The price of the book entitles the buyer to a Web-based profile called StrengthsFinder that helps identify a person's top five "themes" from a list of 34 identified by Gallup consultants Buckingham and co-author Donald Clifton. These themes, or potential strengths, are expressed as personality types and include the person who looks for agreement, the person who relates well with others, and the person who sees big ideas. FORTUNE's Mark Borden catches up with the author to discuss strengths, Bill Gates, and Tiger Woods.

Companies budget huge amounts of money on training. Is that a waste?

Most training is remedial, and when training is purely remedial, it's a waste of time. What companies need to be able to do is figure out where someone's natural talents lie, and then combine them with skills and knowledge. [More often companies] try to lump them all together and call them competencies. We are going to train you to be empathetic, because we've decided that empathy is one of the competencies that every manager should have. We're going to train you how to be strategic, because managers should all be strategic. That's just a complete waste of time.

Once people identify their five "themes," how should they focus on them?

We try to explain the difference between skills and knowledge and talent. Talent is unique, endearing, and hard to train; skills and knowledge can and should be trained. Together they combine to create a strength. The themes aren't strengths yet. They are areas where you have the greatest potential for strength. In a sense they are areas of promise. Our point is for you to take a step back. Imagine that you've got a deck of cards that's all shuffled. What are the top five cards that you're going to play? If you know those, you're in a much better position to be able to alter your career: Focus on your style to play to those strengths.

Practically speaking, once you've got your top five, we encourage you to sit down with your manager and talk about what you think you bring to the table. Most conversations between a manager and an employee are remedial. They're focused on gaps. So we need to flip everyone's assumptions around.

Why do you think the ideal of a well-rounded person is bogus?

Because that person doesn't exist. People who are really, really good at their job are not well rounded. They're sharp in one or two key areas. They're blunt in others, and they've managed to either round their weakness to where it doesn't get in the way or get a little better at it. Or they've surrounded themselves with people who are sharp where they're blunt.

Look at the best leaders in corporate America. Bill Gates hasn't taken Strengths-Finder, so I'm inferring this, but he has a theme that we would call futuristic, which is, "Wouldn't it be great if..." For him, the question is, "Wouldn't it be great if every single household had a computer on the desk?" Bill is a hopeful, optimistic, futuristic guy. Steve Ballmer may have some of those talents as well, but his genius is in setting crystal-clear agendas for his company and his people. So together they've made an incredibly powerful partnership.

Your mantra is "Work on your strengths; manage around weakness."

A great example is Tiger Woods. Tiger Woods has a weakness in his game; he's 61st in sand saves. If he worked in corporate America, they would label his weakness in sand saves an area of opportunity, and he and coach Butch Harmon would work on that weakness in the off-season. They didn't do that. They got to the point where the sand saves were good enough so that they didn't get in the way. Then they spent the whole off-season rebuilding his swing, which was his most dominant strength. Now, what's interesting about that is, Tiger Woods won the British Open last year at St. Andrews. St. Andrews has more bunkers than almost any other course. There was only one golfer during the four days that didn't get into one of them: Tiger Woods. His swing was so long and so accurate, he didn't have to work on his sand swing. He was never in a bloody bunker! Not once.