Last night I read some of the Tweets management coach and author Marcus Buckingham tweeted on his Twitter account. Buckingham, certainly playing in the top league of coaches and speakers, focuses his work on identifying and using personal strengths. However, it seems as if even the very bright guys and hard workers need a weekend timeout from time to time, as Buckingham was visiting a baseball game on Sunday. Two of his tweets from the stadium read like this:
“@ Sox game. USA sports r designed to create brief moments of maximum tension. The pitch. The 4th down play. The last second 3 pointer.” “No wonder soccer never really caught on.”
That finding instantly caught my attention as it was adding on my post that compared soccer and baseball about a month ago (“Is it a game?”). If we leave basketball out of the equation (from my perspective there’s not too much of a difference between a last second 3 pointer in basketball and a decisive goal in injury time in soccer), the difference between (American) football and baseball on the one hand and soccer on the other hand is striking:
Both baseball and (American) football are non-continuous games. They consist of single downs or pitches after which there is a pause until the next down or pitch. Also, for every team there is either the offensive or the defensive part of the squad on the field (or, in “special” cases the “special team”). In soccer the match continues unless the ball leaves the field or a foul is called and is only interrupted once for the half time break, other than that the action goes on and is performed by practically the same eleven players, no matter if the team is attacking or defending.
Soccer requires players to be generalists. Ever since the “Totaalvoetbal” approach played by Ajax Amsterdam in the 1970s (for more on the evolution of soccer tactics and “Totaalvoetbal”, please refer to my post “Strategy, Tactics and why the World Cup has been boring so far”), soccer players were forced to perform well even when playing outside of their usual position. In modern soccer, strikers also have to defend (and most of them complain about it…), it has become a game for generalists.
Baseball and (American) football are totally different. In the American League for example, a pitcher does not even have to hit, in the National League the pitcher usually hits last in the rotation and nobody expects anything from him. In (American) football, a wide receiver or a running back will most probably never play in defense. These are games for specialists, not generalists.
Getting the link back to Marcus Buckingham: The approach he teaches is not to try to improve in the areas of your weaknesses. On the contrary, his research shows that those that are the most successful in their job are trying to get the maximum out of their strengths instead. Buckingham puts his advice like this: “Build on your strengths and manage around your weaknesses”.
So are baseball or (American) football the better sports than soccer as they allow a better concentration on your strengths? No, they’re not because if your strength is in flexibility to adjust (e.g. from offense to defense) or in stamina, you might probably be better off in soccer than in baseball. Yet if you’re a great thrower but a bad hitter, you better use your strength and become a pitcher and don’t start to work on your hitting to become a first baseman one day. Sounds obvious? Yes it does, which is why I like those comparisons with sports. However, in real life, a lot of people seem not to find this too obvious.
What about you? Are you still working on your hitting, trying to become a first baseman? And do you even know if you’re better at hitting or at pitching?
Buckingham asks two simple questions that might hurt to answer: What was your best day at work during the last three months? And what was your worst day at work during the last three months? Those two may give you hints at what your strengths are. And his definition of a strength is not something that you’re good at, but something that makes you stronger, that “strengthens” you.
Fine, but what now once you discovered your strengths and want to build on them while managing around your weaknesses? To find the answer let’s go back to the Tweets I referred to at the beginning of this post.
It seems like in the US, sports fans prefer brief moments of maximum tension to a continuous tension without interruptions, while e.g. in Europe it’s the other way around. There is no right or wrong, the point is that there are preferences. Finding the right match of your strengths with the preferences of the audience – company, boss, customer, you name it – is where you can be successful. Countries, companies, business units, managers, they all have preferences, they offer recognition for certain strengths, while others recognize other strengths.
If you’re great at negotiating and closing deals, but not so good at doing the due diligence prior to the negotiation or the paperwork afterwards, better don’t work as an analyst. Leave it to those that have their strengths in that area and find a boss or a job that allows you to negotiate more.
“Work can be a great place. It can be a place where you have a chance to be challenged in just the way that you like to be challenged. It can be a place where people recognize you for what you do well and then push you to get better at it. It can be a place where you get to make the kind of difference that only you could make. But (…) only two out of ten people get to play to their strengths at work most of the time.” (Marcus Buckingham)
Find the jobs where people have preferences for your strengths, where they have recognition for what you can deliver. It’s your choice. Soccer or baseball. Pitcher or first baseman. One of the two out of ten or one of the other eight.