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First, Read the Book

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

by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman
(Simon & Schuster, 1999, ISBN 0684852861)

We are all familiar with the conventional wisdom passed on from one generation of managers to the next. Treat all employees alike. Help employees identify and overcome weaknesses. Provide the proper training and any employee can accomplish anything.

Unfortunately, this is not what great managers do,
say Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. Using data collected from over 80,000 managers in 400 organizations over 25 years by the Gallup Corporation, they conclude that great managers systematically break commonly accepted rules about how managers should behave.

The authors write that all managers are called upon to perform four core activities: select staff, set expectations for them, motivate them and develop them. How well managers perform these tasks determines the success of their department or business unit. (Successful departments are those with high productivity, profitability and customer satisfaction and low staff turnover.) The way in which managers approach these tasks distinguishes between those who follow conventional wisdom and great managers who:

  • Select staff for talent (defined as “a recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behaviour that can be productively applied”), rather than simply for experience, intelligence or determination.
  • Set expectations by defining the right outcomes, rather than the right steps to reach the outcome.
  • Motivate staff by focusing on their strengths, rather than their weaknesses.
  • Develop staff by helping them find the right fit, rather than helping them move to the next rung on the ladder.

What makes an organization strong is having front line managers who work well with staff. Great managers must clearly define expectations, provide the necessary equipment, create opportunities for employees to do their best, recognize employees for good work, care about employees as individuals and offer encouragement. Many organizations attempt to attract and retain talented staff with high pay, great benefits, opportunities for promotion and training opportunities. What these companies ignore is the impact managers have on whether employees stay or go. People may join companies, but they quit managers.


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© Nelson Scott.  All rights reserved.

A professional trainer, speaker, and consultant since 1995, Nelson Scott works with organizations that are committed to making the right hiring decisions, developing and retaining productive staff, and strengthening relationships with customers.  Learn more by visiting or e-mailing


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