Book Review: First, Break All the Rules (What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently)
The book by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman is based on extensive research involving 80,000 interviews with some of the world’s most effective managers. The longitudinal study was undertaken by the Gallup organisation over a 25 year period. First Break all the Rules has already appeared on the New York Times bestseller list for 93 weeks. Time Magazine has listed the book as one of ‘The 25 Most Influential Business Management Books’. This is also the same book that is behind the famous Q12 Engagement Survey (highly recommended).
It takes a while to get going and certainly isn’t the best business book in the world, however it does successfully challenge a lot of conventional thinking around what makes a great manager and for that reason alone is worth reading. For example, Buckingham and Coffman controversially state that the (fairly robust) evidence suggests that every employee does not have ‘unlimited potential’ – but that great managers can compensate for this by not investing their valuable time in trying to fix weaknesses. They suggest that managers should instead focus on developing the strengths and talents of each and every one of their people. For the authors, the great manager mantra is ‘don't try to put in what was left out, instead draw out what was left in’. Fostering strengths and ignoring weaknesses - instead of trying to transform everyone into ‘a well-rounded individual’ was the approach adopted by Facebook’s Lori Goler who made it her mission to make FB, what she termed a ‘strengths-based organisation’ (she even recruited Buckingham to help her achieve this aim). It looks like the idea is now paying off because Facebook is regarded as one of the best places to work in America today.
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Here at Endor, the real pearl of wisdom contained in this book, was actually one of the simplest. Through their evaluation of over 120,000 hours on 1-1 interviews exploring precisely what it was that the most effective managers did differently, they identified just one common trait which was applied by every one of these managers (who were able to deliver exceptional results by balancing both people and task requirements). Initially researchers at Gallup expected this defining characteristic to be something around how they managed their teams, how they motivated people, or how they defined their compelling vision. Significantly they found large variations of approach in all of these key management practices – indeed the research confirmed what we all probably instinctively know – ie that there isn’t just one way to manage after all – no single secret to managerial success – no blueprint for excellence. However, buried in the data, there was one defining trait which they weren’t initially searching for – something that all of the most effective managers shared – a quality which came up time and time again and appeared with an alarming consistency in all the descriptions of approach used by these high performing managers (and which was not present in the feedback from managers who focused too much on either people or on task concerns). So what was this elusive quality?
The research concluded that what great managers did differently was that they all INDIVIDUALISED their messages and approach based on the person they were working with. They intuitively acknowledged that to get the best out of people they needed to adapt their style, in order to get each person engaged with the message they were delivering.
“To encourage people to take responsibility for who they really are. And it is the only way to show respect for each person. Focusing on strengths is the storyline that explains all their efforts as managers.” Buckingham
This simple truth that the best managers treat everyone as an individual is of course easy in principle, but hard in reality, particularly if you sometimes struggle with certain people on an interpersonal level.
What do you do differently as a manager? Are there conventions that you sometimes break, which still bring about great results? Let us know – we’d love to hear your thoughts.