Connections to Experts: Marcus Buckingham

Succeeding in entrepreneurship is all about building on your strengths. No one knows that more than Marcus Buckingham, a New York Times bestselling author, business consultant and EO speaker. In this interview, Octane sat down with Marcus to discuss the importance of leveraging your strengths and StandOut, his ground-breaking strengths assessment test.

Through your research, you’ve established yourself as a global business expert. What is your biggest lesson learned in business?

“I was with Gallup for 17 years before I decided to start living the entrepreneurial dream. Afterward, I created TMBC, a company that focuses on building tools and training for people to become great managers. The first lesson I learned when I left Gallup was that I had to choose a business that challenged me; a business that could get me excited no matter how big it got. I also learned that the one thing sufficient for building a business is not money or drive or good people. Every entrepreneur needs to stamp this on their forehead— it’s all about the customer. If you have a customer, you have a business. If you have no customer, you have no business. The best entrepreneurs know how to attract customers.”

What are some common mistakes you’ve seen entrepreneurs make when it comes to leading their staff, and how can they overcome them?

“Entrepreneurs try to be all things to all people, and that never works. They try to become a perfect leader. The best thing to do is read books on leadership to shore up your weaknesses, and be aware of your business blind spots. That doesn’t mean you have to focus on it; many entrepreneurs do, and they lose the entrepreneurial edge that got them where they are in the first place. They become less creative, and start to lose their authenticity. Another major error I see entrepreneurs make is that they hire people that are too much like themselves. It makes for a comfortable team, but not a productive one.”

Tell me about the StandOut assessment. What’s involved in this concept?

“As an entrepreneur, you have to be good at many things. You have to discover your unfair advantage, your edge. StandOut is an action-oriented strengths assessment that reveals the personal edge that will help you win at work. A lot of entrepreneurs I’ve worked with share the same burning questions: How can I become a better performance coach? How can I ensure my employees take responsibility for their own performance and development? How can I accelerate the uptake of best practices in my business? The StandOut assessment measures you on nine strength roles, and then reveals your top two strengths, or the focal points of your talents and skills. It also shows you how to best leverage these strengths to build yourself as a leader.”

What have you discovered during the creation of StandOut?

“When you study excellence, you find that people practice it in really different ways. What looks so authentic with one person looks fake and foolish when someone else tries it. Innovations are strength-specific. For example, I can only transfer my innovations to you if you share the same strengths that I do. With StandOut, I feed you best practices and techniques that fit you, ignoring the cookie-cutter approach to leadership that makes you lose the very thing you most rely on to win: your authenticity.”

If you could offer entrepreneurs tips for improved leadership, what would they be?

“Stay in business. People say that if you grow your business, you should stay above it at all times. I say stay in your business, and don’t get too far removed from it. You’ll want to hear what clients are saying, and not hear it secondhand. Also, study your successes. We don’t study successes enough; we study failures too much, thinking it tells us about success— it doesn’t. To not lose, study failure; to win, study what you’ve won. At the end of the day, entrepreneurship is about finding your edge and maximizing the living daylights of out it. It’s all about differentiating.”

To learn more about Marcus Buckingham and StandOut, visit or refer to his biography.

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