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

by Marcus Buckingham, Curt Coffman
Simon & Schuster, 255 pages, $18.48

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Anybody looking to get inside the minds of successful managers to see how they have toppled conventional wisdom will appreciate First, Break All The Rules. Chock full of relevant stories and revolutionary insights, this book is a worthwhile investment for good managers who want to make the leap to being great. Culled from 12 years of Gallup Research studies, the most powerful managerial discovery the research yielded was that talented employees need great managers. The question then becomes, what makes a manager great?
The authors use stories to illustrate the lessons they learned. One such story is of the scorpion and the frog who agrees to ferry the scorpion across the lake, despite the danger of being stung. The frog is stung in the middle of the lake and the scorpion declares “It’s my nature to sting.” The lesson here is that great managers remember what the frog forgot – that each individual is motivated differently and true to his or her unique nature. They know there is only so much remolding they can do. They don’t bemoan differences on their team, but capitalize on them.
Restaurant manager Michael sums up this way of thinking by saying “I think the best a manager can do is make each person comfortable with who they are. Treating people differently is a way of making them feel unique.” Buckingham and Coffman cite these four basic roles of a great manager:
  1. Select a person (based on experience, intelligence and determination)
  2. Set expectations (by defining the right steps)
  3. Motivate the person (by helping him/her identify and overcomes weaknesses)
  4. Develop the person (by helping him/her learn and get promoted)

Other characteristics of great managers are that they select for talent and define it as “a recurring pattern of thought, feeling or behavior that can be productively applied.” The most effective managers invest in their best and spend more of their time with their most productive employees. The authors relate the story of Gerry C, a superintendent who realizes that as a manager, you might think you have more control, but you actually have less control than the people reporting to you. The real key is that you have remote control.
First, Break All The Rules concludes with sections devoted to The Art of Interviewing and Performance Management. Ultimately, we learn that the greatest managers in the world do not have much in common. They employ vastly different styles and focus on different goals. The notable thing about this book is all of the mileage it gets out of what the great managers in the world do have in common. Managers at all levels will learn from what is referred to as the great manager’s mantra: “Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out. Try to draw from what was left in.”

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