Entreleadership 2019 Speaker Insights Series: Marcus Buckingham

Finding and calibrating the red threads

What happens when we all realize that we have a red thread?  That red thread is that unique thing we do and really thrive in.  Marcus Buckingham describes red threads as patterns of excellence.  Bear in mind that excellence has its own patterns.  Buckingham provided the important reminder that excellence is not merely the opposite of bad.  Often research looks at the bad, and points out that we can invert it to get good, but to understand excellence, we must study excellence.

Buckingham shared the tale of Lionel Messi to illustrate.  Messi, is arguably one of the greatest soccer players ever to live.  His talent is second to none, and to those soccer (or as Marcus would say: FOOTBALL)  fans out there his least kept secret is that he only has a left foot.  All of his opponents know this, and yet, he still manages to find a way.  

The greatest talent that almost never was

Throughout Lionel Messi’s career, he has scored 706 career club goals and has 111 on the international level, 95 of which were with the Argentina senior team and the others with youth national teams. His entire career has led him to where he is today. At the age of 35, he has been arguably the best player at the 2022 World Cup in what will probably be his last. 

Despite Messi’s raw talent from a very young age, he almost never was. He came over from Argentina at the age of 13 to Spain and join Barcelona’s youth academy.  He was recognized as a force to be reckoned with from young, but by 15, Messi decided he was going to stop playing.  You read that right, Lionel Messi decided…he was done.  

His coaches focused not on how unstoppable his left foot was, but actually, how weak his right foot was.  They were “developing” his right foot.  In actuality, this was eroding his red thread, an unstoppable left foot, that had far more to offer if further developed.  Messi consistently knew he would get better outcomes personally and for the team if he continued developing the raw talent of his left foot, instead of developing to a level of inferior mediocrity on his right foot. Messi knew that even though his left was incredibly powerful, there was still more polishing needed on his left to sustain and continue to improve its dominance and contributions he could make.  As he was done with this experience and ready to walk… his coaches worked diligently to make sure that didn’t happen, as they could not understand why someone so talented would be willing to pack it up.  

Messi’s request was simple: allow me to focus on really developing my left foot.  Across the board his game was weakening as his left foot talent would begin to diminish while “developing” inferior mediocrity in his right.  With great intentions, Messi’s coaches were inadvertently weakening him as a player. His coaches agreed to this and made sure that he focused on developing continued excellence in his left foot. 

The First Person You Lead

When we lead, we have the responsibility to escape the cult of mediocrity and help those we lead escape it as well.  We have the responsibility to help develop not only as employees but as people around their red threads.  It is not to say that all of our time will be spent in the land of the red thread, but what happens when we have glimmers of it folding into the way we contribute more and more?  What happens when our teams are in a space where that is happening and those threads are woven together?  That is where together we become unstoppable.

But here is the thing…as leaders…the first person we lead is ourselves.  Young Lionel Messi, took ownership of his talents, his Red Thread. That led to his ability to calibrate those talents on teams he has been on to contribute masterfully. 

As Leaders, we will go through many different seasons.  Marcus Buckingham reminded us: If you achieve balance in your life where everything is in perfect state…your next move will likely be to tell everyone: “STOP don’t move, because if anyone, or thing moves, the balance has been disrupted.”  There is the constant flow that we face.  That pressure and those shifting sands are at the core of why leadership matters.  As these changes happen…you may reach points in your life, where you can rise up, or rise out.  I don’t mean quitting.  As Dave Ramsey puts it: “Great leaders quit all the time…they quit stupid.”  There are going to be the growth seasons, where you will have to reset and recalibrate your own talents first, so you can really make sure to bring out the best on the team.  

The Re-Calibration of Marcus Buckingham

For any of you that have seen Marcus speak, you know he is a dynamic speaker, and is one of the premier voices on the application of strengths.  In knowing this, Marcus, played to his strengths, but found himself growing an ever larger company that he was the CEO of.  Even though he had shimmers of where his strengths do shine, as his CEO role expanded, he begun growing further and further away from one of his true red threads.  

Marcus is a world renown researcher…he LOVES collecting data, finding data points and the analysis…(did I mention that he LOVES THIS???)  He loves telling the story and connecting the dots within the research, and being able to breathe life into that data to share with the world.  As that CEO role demanded more of him, Marcus realized, that his red thread was starting to unravel, one fiber at a time.  

In 2017 ADP purchased his company, and placed him as the head of the ADP Research institute.  This role, has freed Marcus from the CEO role, and allowed him to spend far more time in the area where he can continue to weave his Red Thread personally, and create far greater impact globally.  To paraphrase Jesse Itzler: “Marcus did not come this far to just come this far.”  

Just like if the oxygen masks drop on the airplane…you must put your oxygen mask on first, or start doing some wim hof breathing patterns and be able to hold your breath for a ridiculously long period of time (more on that and my obsession with it in another post).  You will go through seasons as a leader, where not only the team needs adjusting…but you do…If you are curious where you are at in that cycle, maybe it is time for you to evaluate your zones in work and personal life that are in your grind, greatness and genius zones.  You cannot grow outstanding teams as a leader, if you have started migrating away from your red thread and are in need of some re-calibration. Here is a simple question to ponder: Are you calibrated right now?  Are you in need of a talent re-calibration?