Buckingham, First Break All the Rules

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Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group, 1999.

Sequels: See the list in the resource guide on Strengths-Based Leadership

Referenced in: Strengths-Based Leadership

LifeandLeadership.com Summary

This is perhaps one of the best discussions of management available, and as such has great applicability to the care and feeding of volunteers, optimizing ministry teams, staff building, etc. Another feature is the emphasis in chapter 5 on strengths-based management, i.e. not expecting people to overcome weaknesses, but helping them to build on strengths. It is closely related to the many other materials by Buckingham and Rath on Strengths-Based Leadership.

Here is a summary of key insights. First, the “Measuring Stick” helps managers assess the strength of a workplace. After conducting research on over 105,000 employees across 2500 business units in different industries devised twelve questions that measure the core elements needed to attract, focus, and keep the most talented employees. They are:

1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
4. In the last 7 days, have I received recognition or praise for good work?
5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel like my work is important?
9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
10. Do I have a best friend at work?
11. In the last 6 months, have I talked with someone about my progress?
12. At work, have I had opportunities to learn and grow?

Second, they conducted hour-and-a-half interviews with over 80,000 managers, resulting in 120,000 hours of recordings and 5 million pages of transcript. Obviously, there were many variations, but there was one insight, one shared wisdom, to which all of these great managers kept returning:

Each individual…is true to his unique nature. They recognize that each person is motivated differently, that each person has his own way of thinking and his own style of relating to others. The know that there is a limit to how much remolding they can do to someone. But they don’t bemoan these differences and try to grind them down. Instead they capitalize on them. They try to help each person become more and more of who he already is. Simply put, this is the one insight we heard echoed by tens of thousands of managers: People don’t change that much. Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out. Try to draw out what was left in. That is hard enough. (56-57)

This leads to one of Buckingham’s chief emphases of managing by strengths, not weaknesses. Excellent managers do not believe that everyone has unlimited potential. They have potential in their areas of fit, but not outside them.

Third, based on the above findings, they discovered that these managers have four rules that break with conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom says:

  1. Select a person…based on his experience, intelligence, and determination.
  2. Set expectations…by defining the right steps.
  3. Motivate the person…by helping him identify and overcome his weaknesses.
  4. Develop the person…by helping him learn and get promoted.(66)

But based on the one great shared insight above on managing according to strengths, these managers did it differently. They following the “Four Keys of Great Managers.” The rest of the chapters develop each of the four keys, one key at a time.

  1. When selecting someone, they select for talent…not simply experience, intelligence, or determination.
  2. When setting expectations, they define the right outcomes…not the right steps.
  3. When motivating someone, they focus on strengths…not on weaknesses.
  4. When developing someone, they help him find the right fit…not simply the next rung on the ladder. (67)

Here Buckingham also explains the difference between leadership and management, how both are important, and how to conduct management in a way that maximizes people’s life satisfaction and contribution.

Fourth, the appendices contain useful information. They discuss how the research was conducted, and its validity. They also lay out the three kinds of talent areas: striving, thinking, and relating. Interestingly, these form the preliminary basis for the “Strengths Finder” profile that is featured in the other volumes that are listed in the Ministry Resource Guide on Strengths-Based Leadership.

From the Publisher

The greatest managers in the world seem to have little in common. They differ in sex, age, and race. They employ vastly different styles and focus on different goals. Yet despite their differences, great managers share one common trait: They do not hesitate to break virtually every rule held sacred by conventional wisdom. They do not believe that, with enough training, a person can achieve anything he sets his mind to. They do not try to help people overcome their weaknesses. They consistently disregard the golden rule. And, yes, they even play favorites. This amazing book explains why.

Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman of the Gallup Organization present the remarkable findings of their massive in-depth study of great managers across a wide variety of situations. Some were in leadership positions. Others were front-line supervisors. Some were in Fortune 500 companies; others were key players in small, entrepreneurial companies. Whatever their situations, the managers who ultimately became the focus of Gallup’s research were invariably those who excelled at turning each employee’s talent into performance.

In today’s tight labor markets, companies compete to find and keep the best employees, using pay, benefits, promotions, and training. But these well-intentioned efforts often miss the mark. The front-line manager is the key to attracting and retaining talented employees. No matter how generous its pay or how renowned its training, the company that lacks great front-line managers will suffer. Buckingham and Coffman explain how the best managers select an employee for talent rather than for skills or experience; how they set expectations for him or her — they define the right outcomes rather than the right steps; how they motivate people — they build on each person’s unique strengths rather than trying to fix his weaknesses; and, finally, how great managers develop people — they find the right fit for each person, not the next rung on the ladder. And perhaps most important, this research — which initially generated thousands of different survey questions on the subject of employee opinion — finally produced the twelve simple questions that work to distinguish the strongest departments of a company from all the rest. This book is the first to present this essential measuring stick and to prove the link between employee opinions and productivity, profit, customer satisfaction, and the rate of turnover.

There are vital performance and career lessons here for managers at every level, and, best of all, the book shows you how to apply them to your own situation.

About the Authors

Marcus Buckingham spent 17 years at the Gallup Organization, where he conducted research into the world’s best leaders, managers, and workplaces. The Gallup research later became the basis for the bestselling books First, Break All the Rules and Now, Discover Your Strengths, both co-authored by Buckingham. He has been the subject of in-depth profiles in The New York Times, Fortune, Business Week, and Fast Company. He now has his own company, providing strengths-based consulting, training, and e-learning. He lives in Southern California with his wife, Jane, and their two children, Jackson and Lilia.

Curt Coffman is the global practice leader for the Gallup Organization’s Workplace Management Practice. He consults regularly on the develop of productive, customer-oriented workplaces.

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