Marcus Buckingham's Love + Work: New Age Spirituality Guru (Part I)

Part I of IV

Marcus Buckingham’s Love + Work offers some great insights, but it is more intriguing as the reflections of one of today’s New Age spirituality gurus. We get the head’s up right from the start of the book with an opening quote from Kahlil Gibran, author of The Prophet. But, why this perspective from Buckingham? Wasn’t religion and spirituality withering in the face of scientism and rationalism?

For anyone thinking that religion and spirituality are diminishing, authors such as Buckingham will disabuse them of the notion. Rodney Stark in The Triumph of Faith[:] Why The World is More Religious Than Ever has documented the prevalence of spirituality, and it is reflected in Buckingham and his ilk. He reflects, unwittingly, the genre of writers who speak confidently about topics far outside their expertise. 

Marcus Buckingham provides his spiritual insights on marriage, raising kids, the education system, and love. His zone of expertise is as a researcher focused on identifying the strengths of individuals. He has written well-known books and articles. Yet now he pontificates on many areas outside of his sweet spot. 

In the spirit of vulnerability and authenticity, he offers cringe-inducing explanations of some of his personal experiences. He describes how he decided to divorce his first wife. It simply wasn’t working for him. It didn’t end well. He concedes that “my ex and I had had a high-conflict divorce, and yes, sadly, we didn’t speak to each other” [241].

His ex-wife was embroiled in the college entrance cheating scandal. He was faultless but suffered some collateral damage. He never knew about her activities so was absolved of guilt. In the book, his wife has no voice, but he offers extensive quotes from the journal writings of his current girlfriend, Myshel, whose only credibility is that she is, well, Buckingham’s present long-term meaningful co-relator.

The book feels like getting something you weren’t expecting. The inside flap states that the book will help you choose the right role on a team, mold your existing role so that it calls upon the very best of you, and create lasting change for your team, your company, your family, or your students. If Buckingham had focused on those key points the book would have been shorter and better.

His thirty-page chapter on “Love + Learning” should have been edited out of the book entirely. It reads like an opportunity to rant on a pet peeve that doesn’t quite fit the focus of the book. He notes that higher education institutions “are purpose-built to persuade you that you’re an empty vessel” [28]. Further, “You are judged not by how intelligently you’ve cultivated your unique loves, but by how closely you’ve matched the models” [31]. He disses prestigious universities. He is careful to pick on MIT rather than Harvard, as his book is published by HBR Press [11].

His objective in the book: “My simple hope is that these stories [highlighted in the book] will help you craft your own.” Partially. Since it is Marcus Buckingham, you keep reading the book thinking it is going to get better. There are enough insights to make the effort worthwhile, despite his views of love and work embedded in his New Age spirituality.