Effectively managing personnel--as well as one's own behavior--is an extraordinarily complex task that, not surprisingly, has been the subject of countless books touting what each claims is the true path to success. That said, Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton's Now, Discover Your Strengths does indeed propose a unique approach: focusing on enhancing people's strengths rather than eliminating their weaknesses.
Following up on the coauthors' popular previous book, First, Break All the Rules, it fully describes 34 positive personality themes the two have formulated (such as Achiever, Developer, Learner, and Maximizer) and explains how to build a "strengths-based organization" by capitalizing on the fact that such traits are already present among those within it.
This book presents an interesting description of personality that describes 34 different types of strengths that a person may have. Based on measurement of these strengths (discussed below), it is possible to identify dominant strengths that help to determine personality. The focus of the book is on describing these strengths and then arguing that it is best for individuals and managers can best develop and build upon individuals' strengths. The book makes the interesting point that it is most effective trying to build on these strengths rather trying to identify and improve upon weaknesses.
A key to this book is an internet-based test that allows an individual to obtain a measurement of their top five strengths. To take this test, you log onto a specific website and type in the unique password that is printed in thte inside cover of the book. (This means you only take the test once -- your friends will need to buy the book to take the test!). The test is based on work that the Gallup Organization has done and has (according to the book) been been administered to 2 million people in a large number of different type of organizations.
Once on the site, you answer 180 questions in which you are asked to make a two-way choice as to what word better describes you, which action you would rather take, and so forth. It takes about 20-30 minutes in total to get through these, but once you do, a report is generated on screen (along with an with the same information) that lists your top five strengths and provides a description of what they are. Many of the strengths involve how you deal with people, how you process information, and how you see yourself in the world.
The book gives short descriptions of each strength and gives short (one-paragraph)write-ups from people who have the particular strength describing themselves. The book is meant to be a management tool, in that it talks about how to manage people with each of the strength in the book and make best use of these strengths.
I feel that the book is a better popular psychology book rather than a management book. Although the descriptions of strength seemed fairly clear, the discussion could have been better when it described how to manage people. It tended to be a list of "do this" without much discussion of why a manager might want to encourage an employee to do certain things or take on certain types of assignments. What the book really lacked was a description of the downside that certain strengths might bring (e.g., a person who is deliberative may seem to take a long time to do something). A better discussion of what the strengths really mean would have been helpful.
The book is well-written and taking the test is fun. Learning about one own attributes as measured by the test is helpful, both in personal and business life. It will make you think about yourself in a constructive and stimulating way. This in itself makes the book worth buying.
The book provides some good insight into how to manage individual types of people and help them develop on the job. I found it a bit weak on management from the standpoint of what an organization should do, in that it just seemed too general beyond saying figure out what everybody can do well and encourage them to do it. It may be, however, that some of this material is discussed in the book's (earlier) companion book ("First, Break All the Rules").
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