First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently

First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently

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by Marcus Buckingham, Curt W Coffman

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The world’s greatest managers differ in sex, age, and race. They employ different styles and focus on different goals. Despite their differences, great managers share one trait: They break virtually every rule conventional wisdom holds sacred. They don’t believe that, with enough training, a person can achieve anything he sets his mind to. They don’t…  See more details below


The world’s greatest managers differ in sex, age, and race. They employ different styles and focus on different goals. Despite their differences, great managers share one trait: They break virtually every rule conventional wisdom holds sacred. They don’t believe that, with enough training, a person can achieve anything he sets his mind to. They don’t try to help people overcome their weaknesses. They disregard the golden rule. They even play favorites. Gallup presents the remarkable findings of its massive in-depth study of great managers — those who excelled at turning each employee’s talent into performance.

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. This amazing book explains how the best managers select employees for talent rather than for skills or experience, how they set expectations, how they motivate people, and how they develop people.

Gallup’s research produced twelve simple questions that distinguish the strongest departments of a company from the rest. This book introduces this essential measuring stick and proves the link between employee opinions and productivity, profit, customer satisfaction, and rate of turnover.

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Editorial Reviews
Many business books begin by articulating a set of all-encompassing rules that the reader is expected to internalize in order to become successful in his or her profession. Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman take a radically different approach in this bestselling guide to improving managerial performance. Instead of having us squeeze ourselves into prefabricated roles, the authors encourage us to develop individual styles based on our own innate talents and competencies -- and they back up their recommendations with data gathered during the course of more than 80,000 interviews with managers in almost every conceivable industry. What are some of the rules they encourage people to break? One of the most controversial is the time-honored notion that all people should be treated equally, a mandate that perhaps arises from the belief that parents shouldn't show special favor to some of their children. Instead, Buckingham and Coffman encourage leaders to devote attention to those employees who are truly talented and committed to moving the business forward. The authors don't advocate sacrificing discipline or training, but they do offer innovative ways to reconceptualize the work we do while increasing the pleasure we get from the doing of it.

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Chapter 2: The Wisdom of Great Managers

Words from the Wise

"Whom did Gallup interview?"

How do the best managers in the world lay the foundations of a strong workplace? The flood of answers is rising and threatens to swamp even the most level-headed managers. In 1975 two hundred books were published on the subject of managing and leading. By 1997 that number had more than tripled. In fact, over the last twenty years authors have offered up over nine thousand different systems, languages, principles, and paradigms to help explain the mysteries of management and leadership.

This barrage of conflicting, impressionistic, and largely anecdotal advice is overwhelming, but it rarely enlightens. It lacks precision and simplicity. Something is missing, even from the most persuasive advice. There are volumes of case studies and "here's how I did it" personal success stories, but very little quantitative research and virtually no standard of measurement. No one has ever interviewed the best managers in the world and then compared systematically their answers with the answers of average managers. No one has ever allowed great managers to define themselves. No one has tapped the source. So Gallup did.

This second research effort was the inevitable companion to the first. In the previous chapter we described the link between engaged employees and business unit outcomes and revealed the critical role played by managers everywhere. In this chapter we seek to delve into the minds of the world's great managers and find out how they engaged, so successfully, the hearts, minds, and talents of their people.

Year after year we asked our clients to give us their great managers to interview. It was not always easy to identify who the best ones were, so we began by asking, "Which of your managers would you dearly love to clone?" In some organizations this was the only criterion available. However, in the great majority of organizations there were performance scores: scores measuring productivity and profit; scores for shrinkage, for absenteeism, for employee accidents; and, most important perhaps, scores reflecting the feedback of customers and of the employees themselves. We used these performance scores to sort out the great managers from the rest.

We interviewed hotel supervisors, sales managers, general agents, senior account executives, manufacturing team leaders, professional sports coaches, pub managers, public school superintendents, captains, majors, and colonels in the military, even a selection of deacons, priests, and pastors. We interviewed over eighty thousand managers.

Each great manager was interviewed for about an hour and a half, using open-ended questions. For example:

  • "As a manager, which would you rather have: an independent, aggressive person who produced $1.2 million in sales or a congenial team player who produced about half as much? Please explain your choice."
  • "You have an extremely productive employee who consistently fouls up the paperwork. How would you work with this person to help him/her be more productive?"
  • "You have two managers. One has the best talent for management you have ever seen. The other is mediocre. There are two openings available: the first is a high-performing territory, the second is a territory that is struggling. Neither territory has yet reached its potential. Where would you recommend the excellent manager be placed? Why?"
(You can find out what great managers said to these questions in Appendix B.)

The answers to these, and hundreds of similar questions, were tape-recorded, transcribed, read, and reread. Using the same questions, we then interviewed their rather less successful colleagues. These managers were neither failing nor excelling. They were "average managers." Their answers were tape-recorded, transcribed, read, and reread.

Then we compared. We listened to 120,000 hours of tape. We combed through 5 million pages of transcript. We searched for patterns. What, if anything, did the best have in common? And what, if anything, distinguished them from their less successful colleagues?

It turns out that great managers share less than you might think. If you were to line them all up against a wall, you would see different sexes, races, ages, and physiques. If you were to work for them, you would feel different styles of motivation, of direction, and of relationship building. The truth is they don't have much in common at all.

However, deep within all these variations, there was one insight, one shared wisdom, to which all of these great managers kept returning.

What Great Managers Know

"What is the revolutionary insight shared by all great managers?"

An old parable will serve to introduce the insight they shared.

There once lived a scorpion and a frog.

The scorpion wanted to cross the pond, but, being a scorpion, he couldn't swim. So he scuttled up to the frog and asked: "Please, Mr. Frog, can you carry me across the pond on your back?"

"I would," replied the frog, "but, under the circumstances, I must refuse. You might sting me as I swim across."

"But why would I do that?" asked the scorpion. "It is not in my interests to sting you, because you will die and then I will drown."

Although the frog knew how lethal scorpions were, the logic proved quite persuasive. Perhaps, felt the frog, in this one instance the scorpion would keep his tail in check. So the frog agreed. The scorpion climbed onto his back, and together they set off across the pond. Just as they reached the middle of the pond, the scorpion twitched his tail and stung the frog. Mortally wounded, the frog cried out: "Why did you sting me? It is not in your interests to sting me, because now I will die and you will drown."

"I know," replied the scorpion as he sank into the pond. "But I am a scorpion. I have to sting you. It's in my nature."

Conventional wisdom encourages you to think like the frog. People's natures do change, it whispers. Anyone can be anything they want to be if they just try hard enough. Indeed, as a manager it is your duty to direct those changes. Devise rules and policies to control your employees' unruly inclinations. Teach them skills and competencies to fill in the traits they lack. All of your best efforts as a manager should focus on either muzzling or correcting what nature saw fit to provide.

Great managers reject this out of hand. They remember what the frog forgot: that each individual, like the scorpion, 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. They 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 great 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.
This insight is the source of their wisdom. It explains everything they do with and for their people. It is the foundation of their success as managers.

This insight is revolutionary. It explains why great managers do not believe that everyone has unlimited potential; why they do not help people fix their weaknesses; why they insist on breaking the "Golden Rule" with every single employee; and why they play favorites. It explains why great managers break all the rules of conventional wisdom.

Simple though it may sound, this is a complex and subtle insight. If you applied it without sophistication, you could quickly find yourself suggesting that managers should ignore people's weaknesses and that all training is a complete waste of time. Neither is true. Like all revolutionary messages, this particular insight requires explanation: How do great managers apply it? What does it ask of employees? What does it mean for companies?

Over the next chapters we will answer these questions, but before we do, we have to agree on what a manager, any manager, actually does. What is their unique function in a company? What role do they play? ...

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Out of hundreds of books about improving organizational performance, here is one that is based on extensive empirical evidence and a book that focuses on specific actions managers can take to make their organizations better today! In a world in which managing people provides the differentiating advantage, First, Break All the Rules is a must-read."–Jeffrey Pfeffer, Stanford Business School Professor and author of The Human Equation: Building Profits by Putting People First

"This book challenges basic beliefs of great management with powerful evidence and a compelling argument. First, Break All the Rules is essential reading."–Bradbury H. Anderson President and COO, Best Buy

"This is it! With compelling insight backed by powerful Gallup data, Buckingham and Coffman have built the unshakable foundation of effective management. For the first time, a clear pathway has been identified for creating engaged employees and high-performance work units. It has changed the way I approach developing managers. First, Break All the Rules is a critical resource for every front-line supervisor, middle manager, and institutional leader."–Michael W. Morrison Dean, University of Toyota

"First, Break All the Rules is nothing short of revolutionary in its concepts and ideas. It explains why so many traditional notions and practices are counterproductive in business today. Equally important, the book presents a simpler, truer model complete with specific actions that have allowed our organization to achieve significant improvements in productivity, employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and profit."–Kevin Cuthbert Vice President, Human Resources, Swissôtel

"Finally, something definitive about what makes for a great workplace."–Harriet Johnson Brackey Miami Herald

"Within the last several years, systems and the Internet have assumed a preeminent role in management thinking, to the detriment of the role of people in the workplace. Buckingham and Coffman prove just how crucial good people — and specifically great managers — are to the success of any organization."– Bernie Marcus former Chairman and CEO, Home Depot

"The rational, measurement-based approach, for which Gallup has so long been famous, has increased the tangibility of our intangible assets, as well as our ability to manage them. First, Break All the Rules shows us how."–David P. Norton President, The Balanced Scorecard Collaborative, Inc.; coauthor of The Balanced Scorecard

"As the authors put it, "a great deal of the value of a company lies between the ears of its employees." The key to success is growing that value by listening to and understanding what lies in their hearts — Mssrs. Buckingham and Coffman have found a direct way to measure and make that critical connection. At Carlson Companies, their skills are helping us become the truly caring company that will succeed in the marketplace of the future."–Marilyn Carlson Nelson President and CEO, Carlson Companies

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First, Break All the Rules 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 43 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is provocative and it challenges conventional wisdom in people management. Gallup's thorough research presented in this book reveal the 'Four Keys of Great Managers' that should unlock the potential of each and every employee (the '... not' statements represent conventional wisdom according to the authors) 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 find him the right fit ... not simply the next rung on the ladder So great managers don't believe that a person can achieve anything he sets his mind to. They don't try to help a person overcome his weaknesses (instead they devise a support system. Find a complementary partner. Or find an alternative role). They consistently disregard the golden rule - i.e. treat people as you would like to be treated - instead they acknowledge that each employee is unique and thus would demand different things of you, the manager! And they even play favourites (i.e. spend the most time with your best people). Many of us know by experience that it is hard to manage others well. Continually, you have to balance the competing interests of the employee, the customer, the company, and even yourself. You attend too much to one, and you invariably upset the others. This book cannot make the manager's role easier. But it certainly provides you with some brilliant insights into effective people management. The book's Four Keys should be inspiring for any people manager, even if you do not accept all of their findings. At least, you'll find yourself challenged as they document their conclusions based on 80,000 interviews. I have found their twelve questions to measure the strength of a workplace very helpful for regular individual reviews as well: [What do the employee get?] 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? [What do the employee give?] 3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day? 4. In the last seven 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? [Do the employee belong here?] 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? [How can we all grow?] 11. In the last six months, have I talked with someone about my progress? 12. At work, have I had opportunities to learn and grow?' I liked the book so much that I also bought the audio CD, which is enthusiastically read by Cunningham with a British accent. At last, one of my favourite quotes from this book: 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's hard enough. Peter Leerskov, MSc in International Business (Marketing & Management) and Graduate Diploma in E-business
Guest More than 1 year ago
Overall, the book is a pretty good read. Among other things, I especially enjoyed the discussion about focusing on the strengths of employees and finding the right fit for them. An employee who is mediocre at one job function can excel in another position. This is something that very few other management books discuss even though it is an extremely important principle. I did have a problem with a few things the authors said. I personally don¿t believe that good managers consistently violate the golden rule. This gives readers the impression that good managers don¿t care about treating people well and I don¿t think that¿s true. Also, the authors recommend that managers should spend most of their time with good employees since they are the ones who are getting things done. Although I understand the point they are trying to make, they never said that unproductive behavior should be confronted. It¿s almost as if they are suggesting that poor employees should be ignored. If an employee always shows up late, makes mistakes, and doesn¿t work well with others, is ignoring the problem the best thing to do? I believe that the best managers tactfully confront the behavior, give the employee a fair chance to improve, and then replace them with a much better employee if things don¿t change. In addition, the section on ¿The Art of Interviewing for Talent¿ is bothersome. A list of ¿good interview questions¿ always has to be taken with a huge grain of salt. The reason is simple: people can lie. Anybody who has done a lot of interviews knows that there are people who can say all the right things in an interview and still end up being a dud. Please keep this in mind! Aside from these issues, the book is very solid. I¿d recommend checking it out. Greg Blencoe Author, The Ten Commandments for Managers
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a technical recruiter specializing in electronics engineers and technical sales and marketing people I am constantly reinforcing with my hiring managers the need to recruit for talent, not just experience. I can't overemphasize that the person who does the best job is the person who is doing what he does best! Along these same lines, my advise to the job seeker is to find something you LIKE to do, not what pays the most money. If you like what you're doing the money will follow.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Good research, good presentation. Nobody wants to be a box in the org chart. However, everyone has to leave their individuality outside the door however in the real world of Corporate America. We have become The BORG!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book offers a different perspective on people management. Based on 80,000 interviews and Gallup's research, Buckingham describes the 'Four Keys of Great Managers' that empower employees to experience more of their potential. 1. Selection process - Select for talent, not just experience, intelligence, or determination. 2. Expectations - Define the right outcomes. Don't micromanage by defining the right steps. 3. Motivation - Focus on strengths, not weaknesses. 4. Employee development - Find the right fit, not the next rung on the organization's ladder. Great managers are realists. They do not believe that people can achieve anything they set their minds to. They play favorites and reward the best performers. Buckingham's 12 questions to define the strength of the workplace are helpful in monitoring performance standards. I especially like this question: 'At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?' All in all, a book that leaders can benefit from. I also recommend Optimal Thinking; How To Be Your Best Self to help leaders and employees to identify the 'best' and consistently make the most of everyday situations, and Good to Great to learn what it takes to be a Level 5 leader.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Management is one of those areas where theory and practice often clash. The problem is that there are usually 99 theories (often provided by academics with limited experience) for every good study of outstanding practices. This book exhibits one of my favorite principles: Build around the people to get the right results. The results described in this book fit what I have observed works well in over 30 years as a management consultant. That is the reason why I often encourage new managers to get experience by coaching children's sports teams. In that environment, you soon learn that building around the talent is a critical step in making progress. On the other hand, there are other best practices that this book does not explore. For example, even the best talent will perform better if presented with timely and relevant information, knowledge, and focus. Add lots of low-cost capital and an exciting purpose, and you will do even better. Some people who read this book will conclude that people cannot be changed or improved: That is simply not true, nor is it what this book means to argue. Rather the outstanding manager or leader must learn to combine many types of best practices to get the right result. For example, if you combine the lessons of this book with the lessons of TOP GRADING (the best practices for recruiting the right people), you will get better results than if you used just one or the other book's lessons. Combine several best practices that are often not combined and you can exceed anyone's performance, anywhere. That's the real lesson I hope you draw from this excellent book and other outstanding ones like it that build on careful measurement of how to get the best results. Management needs to become more like medicine where clinical tests run by practicing doctors provide most of the insight for improvement, rather a philosophical debating society run by hypothetical thinkers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very indepth and articulate. A read not comprehended over one run. Read and reread, highlight and take notes if you really want to gain, learn and implement into your profession. I want the audio version too!
PreLawAdviser More than 1 year ago
First, Break All the Rules is worth it just for the 12 questions that measure the strength of a workplace. Every employee out there should read these 12 questions and answer them as truthfully as possible. It's amazing what you can learn about yourself and your workplace by answering these 12 questions. Second, the section on "MOUNTAIN CLIMBING" is just brilliant. I wish every manager in every organization out there would read it and learn how to manage their teams from the metaphorical base camp to the summit of the mountain. Unfortunately, so many workplaces get it wrong and end up with an epidemic of mountain sickness. This section teaches you (whether you are an employee or a manager) what you need at every stage to help your organization reach it's highest goals and mission. Later in my career, I revisited this book and it helped me to understand what I needed to do to be the best possible manager and mentor to my team. Because so few managers I had worked for had actually managed successfully, I had to learn from this book how to do it. It served me well. In case you haven't figure it out, I LOVE this book. So, whether you work for someone else, or are a manager of other people, GET THIS BOOK. You won't regret it.
NathanIves More than 1 year ago
First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman explains how great managers select employees, set expectations, motivate people, and assign people to jobs that fit. Selected examples from the vast research for this book reveal in detail why these practices are successful at attracting and motivating the most talented individuals in a way that produces results beyond those realized by applying traditional managerial methods. The challenge of today's highly competitive business environment is compounded by an ever tightening labor pool. In order to meet the need of continually producing more with less, managers must attract and retain talented personnel and find better ways to release their creative, productive spirits. I like First, Break All the Rules because it clearly illustrates how managers, without elaborate and costly rewards systems, can better attract and motivate employees. Using the insights gained from extensive Gallop Organization research, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman show how great managers: - select employees based on their talents rather than their skills and experiences - define goals and expectations for the work employees perform - focus and build on the individual strengths of each employee rather than on "fixing" the employee's weaknesses - seek to place employees in jobs that fit rather than on corporate ladder climbing I believe the management approach described in First, Break All the Rules will motivate employees and help them reach their highest potential; ultimately creating increased organizational value. Strategy without effective execution is no more than a compilation of good intentions. I believe managers implementing the approach described in First, Break All the Rules will enhance tactical business execution at all levels of the organization; making this book a StrategyDriven recommended read. All the Best, Nathan Ives StrategyDriven Principal
Constant_Learner More than 1 year ago
I'm not a manager, but I had one who followed all the rules. This book was recommended by an astute company facilitator to help me in my frustration. My talents were discovered by a different manager who has embraced this book. Manager or not, I highly recommend this well organized, research-based book to know how to hire the right people, guide them and maintain a team that works. For the employee, you will find your right fit so you can love your work environment.
GoodOldUSA More than 1 year ago
This is a scary philosophy with dangerous ramifications. The author and the company behind this book believes in weeding people out of the workforce who don't fit their discription of a good employee. In the book, the author's examples of good managers include people who actively discriminate and demonstrate favoritism in the workplace. Unfortunately, the Strengths Finder's Test from Gallup University and the Gallup Poll is something that is gaining influence in the state of Nebraska. It's consuming the energies of churches, corporations and other institutions.
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I want to buy this book .. Please create an ebook format......for my iPod . Thanks
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I found this book to be highly motivating. It motivated me to not only concentrate on my strengths, but to appreciate and respect the strengths of others. It really worked for me on both and professional and personal level. We're all different and too often we only respect those who are similar to us rather than appreciating the different skill sets of others. With that recognition comes nurturing to improve the productivity of all.
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