Book Notes by David Mays                See more book notes

BucOnet 05-9-156


About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success


Marcus Buckingham

Free Press, 2005, 289 pp., ISBN 0-7432-6165-8

Buckingham, a seventeen-year researcher with the Gallup Organization, is now an independent consultant, author, and speaker.  His writing is unusually clear and incisive; some might say simplistic.  But I like it because it helps me see where I fit.  And it is, of course, about more than one thing.  But he does pinpoint the core quality of managers, leaders, and individual performers. 


To thrive in this world requires focus, 1) to identify the most critical factors out of many and 2) to bring sustained pressure to bear on them.  Success comes from applying disproportionate pressure in a few selected areas, thereby increasing your capacity and resilience. (25-26)


Part I.  Sustained Organizational Success

Chapter 2.  The difference between managing and leading

The roles of leader and manager are inherently different.  Both require certain natural talents. (33) 


All great managers excel at turning one person’s talent into performance.  Great managers serve the employee first.  They make their employees genuinely believe that their success is the manager’s primary goal. (40-42)  “One of the talents most characteristic of great managers is an ability to derive satisfaction from seeing tiny increments of growth in someone else.” (43)


“Great leaders rally people to a better future.”  Leaders are preoccupied with the future.  They are deeply dissatisfied, restless for change and impatient for progress.  They have a vivid image of what the future could be and they are driven by it.  The leader is able to rally others to that future.  Optimism and ego are the required talents for great leadership.  Leaders instinctively and deeply believe that things can get better.  They cannot be dissuaded.  And they believe that they are the one to make it come true.  They have a craving to be at the helm, charting the course.  (59-67)


“Leaders don’t set humble goals.”  “They are not humble in their assessment of their own abilities.  Virtually nothing about them is humble.” (68)  “Leaders are born.  A leader is born with an optimistic disposition or she is not.” (69)


“The manager’s starting point is the individual employees.”  “The leader...starts with his image of the future.” (70)


Chapter 3.  The Basics of Good Managing

Four skills of good managing:

1.      Select good people.  Know what talents you need.  Ask open-ended questions and know what you’re looking for.  Listen to spontaneous responses.  Listen for specifics.  “The best predictor of future behavior is frequent past behavior.” (75)

2.      Define clear expectations.  “I have never met a confused productive employee....” Filter the many expectations and derive a clear set of metrics.  Meet with individuals “a minimum of 4 or 5 times a year to check progress, offer advice, and agree on course corrections.” (76, 77)

3.      Provide praise and recognition.  Uncertain, negative, future consequences are the least powerful.  Certain, positive and immediate consequences are most powerful.  “Carefully manage the consequences of behaviors.”  Make immediate praise a constant, predictable, and certain part of your management style.” (78, 79)

4.      Genuinely care for the success and well being of your people.  And show it.  When we bond all kinds of other good things happen.


The One Thing: “Discover what is unique about each person and capitalize on it.” (83)


Constantly tweak the context “so that the unique contribution, the unique needs, the unique style of each employee can be give free rein.” (84)  “When you capitalize on what is unique about each person, you stimulate individual excellence.” (96)  “If the person is making a significant contribution to the organization, it is often worth shuffling existing arrangements in order to accommodate his uniqueness.  If he isn’t, then it isn’t.” (97)


To manage a person effectively you need to learn 1) his strengths and weaknesses, 2) his triggers, and 3) his unique style of learning. (101)


Build his self-assurance; inflate his belief in his strengths and then build up the size of the challenge.  (106)  “Squeeze the right trigger and the person will be more likely to push himself harder and to persevere in the face of resistance.  Squeeze the wrong one...and the person may well shut down.” (117) 


The Analyzer learns by taking things apart, often in the classroom.  He hates mistakes.  The Doer needs to be thrown into a new situation and told to wing it.  Role-play is fake to him.  Watchers, or imitators, need to go with you and see how the whole thing is done.  (120-22)


Questions to discern strengths, weaknesses, triggers, and style of learning are given on pp. 124-125.


Chapter 4.  Great Leading

Discover what is universal and capitalize on it.  Despite our differences, we share a lot.  The leader cuts through the individual differences and fastens on those few emotions or needs that we all share.  He focuses on a mission we all share and reflects it back to the employees.  He highlights employees that live out this mission and paints vivid pictures of what the future will look like if this mission is pursued.  He pinpoints one key metric to track everyone’s progress.  (131-34)


Donald Brown’s book, Human Universals, lists five: the need for security, community, clarity, authority, and respect.  (141).


“On reflection most of us realize that being fearful of change is actually quite sensible.”  By bringing clarity – by defining the future in vivid terms, actions, words, images, picture, and heroes – leaders transform our fear of the unknown into confidence in the future.  “Clarity is the antidote to anxiety, and therefore clarity is the preoccupation of the effective leader.” (144-46)


Points of clarity:

1.      Who do we serve?  Your followers require this of you.  Narrow your focus to explain explicitly, vividly the main audience.  They need to know whom they are trying to please and develop confidence in their decisions.  Focus on one customer; become expert at serving this customer, and through the ripple effect you will serve them all.  (146 ff.)

2.       What is our core strength?  This is important for emotional reasons.  It alleviates anxiety by explaining to us why we will win.  What is our edge?  The strength of Best Buy lies in the quality of its employees in the stores.  Therefore they must be exceptionally careful about whom they hire for these roles.  (163 ff.)

3.      What is our core score?  Find a better way to measure success.  What gets measured gets managed.  You get what you inspect.  Sort through all the many things that can be measured and identify the one score that the followers should focus on.  It must be something that we can do something about or that measures how well we are serving the people we serve, or that quantifies our core strength.  At Best Buy they decided the core score was how many employees in each store felt fully engaged at work!  Zeroing in on a core score brings clarity to people.  Avoid “trailing indicators,” such as sales or profit, that can only be measured well after the actions.  Use something immediate.  And it must be clear. (174 ff.)

4.      What actions can we take today? (181 ff.)


Part II.  Sustained Individual Success

“The twenty percenters are those few individuals who...manage to experience extraordinary, repeated, and sustained success.” (203)


“Sustained success means making the greatest possible impact over the longest period of time.” (224)


The One Thing:  Discover what you don’t like doing and stop doing it!  (217)


Your strengths strengthen you.  “When using them you feel powerful, authentic, confident, and, in the best sense challenged.  As such, they are self-reinforcing.” (217)  “The secret to sustained success lies in knowing which [opportunities and roles] engage your strengths and which do not and in having the self-discipline to reject the latter.”  The metaphor is sculpting: sustained success results when you have the discipline to cut away what doesn’t belong.  (218)


 “The more you investigate your past successes, the more you’ll recognize that certain recurring patterns of behavior or perception always seem to crop up.  If you can get enough distance from yourself, you’ll see not only that these patterns are a consistent part of your personality—you’re always competitive, or focus, or patient, or conceptual—but also that you’re most successful whenever these patterns mesh perfectly with the challenge facing you.  These patterns are your strengths....” (249)


What usually happens is career-creep.  New responsibilities are added and your job shifts away from your strengths.  Be alert to these subtle changes and take action to correct your course.  (254)


“Whenever you become aware of some aspect you dislike, do not try to work through it.”  “Cut it out of your life as fast as you can.  Eradicate it.” (257)


“You will contribute the most...when your role closely matches your strengths, and’s your responsibility to try to arrange your world so that it does.” (259)


“What percentage of your day do you spend doing those things you really like to do?” (260)


Eradicating your dislikes.  A dislike most often comes from being

·        Bored.  Your deep interests are not engaged.  Find another role or job.

·        Unfulfilled.  Your values are not engaged.  Change roles or jobs.

·        Frustrated.  Your strengths are not in play.  Find a tiny stream in which your strengths can flow and carve it into a river,

·        Drained.  A strength is required where you have a weakness.  “Quit the role, tweak the role, seek out the right partners [who like the roles you dislike], or find an aspect of the role that brings you strength.” (263 ff., 278) 


The whole book is summed up very well on pp. 284-85.


Further reading:

Now Discover Your Strengths, Marcus Buckingham

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