books - business 2008

The One Thing You Need to Know

The One Thing You Need to Know
… About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success

by Marcus Buckingham

(I think the title is pretty self-explanatory!)

my flags…

g 5 What is the One Thing you need to know about great managing? To get the best performance from your people, you have to be able to execute a number of different roles very well. You have to be able to select people effectively. You have to set expectations by defining clearly the outcomes you want. You have to motivate people by focusing on their strengths and managing around their weaknesses. And, as they challenge you to help them grow, you have to learn how to steer them toward roles that truly fit them, rather than simply promoting them up the corporate ladder.

pg 22 … this controlling insight can serve as the One Thing you need to know about happy marriage: Find the most generous explanation for each other’s behaviour and believe it. Love begins with positive illusions, but in strong marriages, these positive illusions do not give way to a dispassionately accurate understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Instead these positive illusions weave their strength into the fabric of the relationship, until they actually become the relationship. They make themselves come true. Simply put more bluntly, your positive illusions will make your love last.

… instead, when you notice a flaw, recast it in your mind as an aspect of strength. Thus “she’s not impatient, she’s intense.” Or, “she’s not narrow minded, she’s focused.” Initially this might feel like you’re playing mind games with yourself, but you’re actually doing something quite clever. Remember: the strongest relationships over time are those in which each partner finds a way to build on his/her idealized image of the other.

pg 40 … all great managers excel … at turning one person’s talent into performance. This, in all its simplicity, is the role of great managers. At their best, great managers speed up the reaction between each employee’s talents and the company’s goals.

The chief responsibility of a great manager is not to enforce quality, or to ensure customer service, or to set standards, or to build high-performance teams. Each of these is a valuable outcome… but these outcomes are the end result, not the starting point. The starting point is each employee’s talents. The challenge: to figure out the best way to transform these talents into performance. This is the job of the great manager.

pg 41 The manager’s unique contribution is to make other people more productive. He may be charged with other responsibilities, such as selling or designing or leading, but, when it comes to the managing aspect of his job, he will succeed or fail based on his ability to make his employees more productive working with him than they would be working with someone else. And the only way to pull this off, they say, is to make your employees believe, genuinely believe, that their success is your primary goal.

pg 44 … You won’t waste your time pondering how to resolve the conflict between the needs of the company and the needs of the employee. … Instead, you’ll set to work getting to know each of your people and trying to figure out how, where, and when each of them can succeed. You’ll find the time to watch each one’s performance closely. You’ll offer a suggestion here, a tip there, and then support them as they attempt to put your coaching into practice.

pg 59 From all my research, this is the only satisfactory definition I’ve found: Great leaders rally people to a better future. … what defines a leader is his preoccupation with the future.

pg 69 (Amanda’s note: warning! excellent debate topic ahead!) Are leaders born or are they made? They are born. A leader is born with an optimistic disposition or she is not. If she is not, then no amount of “optimism training” is going to make her view the world in an overwhelmingly positive light. Through repeated counseling and coaching, you might be able to make a person less pessimistic than she was before, but “less pessimistic” is not synonymous with “optimistic” any more than “less rude” is synonymous with “charming”. T lead effectively, you must be unfailingly, unrealistically, even irrationally optimistic. Like it or not, this is not learnable.

pg 70 From all this, you can see the vital distinction between the role of the manager and that of the leader. Each is critically important to the sustained success of the organization, but the focus of each is entirely different.

The manager’s starting point is the individual employee. He looks at her palette of talents, skills, knowledge, experience, and goals, and then uses these to design a specific future in which the individual can be successful. That person’s success is his focus.

The leader sees things differently. He starts with his image of the future. This better future is what he talks about, thinks about, ruminates on, designs and refines. Only with this image clear in his mind does he turn his attention to persuading other people that they can be successful in the future he envisions. But, through it all, the future remains his focus.

You can play both roles, of course, but if you do, you must know when to change gears. When you want to manage, begin with the person. When you want to lead, begin with the picture of where you are headed.

pg 78 … to bring out the best in our people we must carefully manage the consequences of their behaviours. If we want to see specific behaviours repeated, we must make sure that these behaviours meet with consequences that are certain, immediate, and positive. In short, we must come to be known as a manager who will recognize excellence immediately and praise it.

pg 81 Pick good people, set clear expectations, recognize excellence and praise it, and show care for your people: these are the four basic skills of good managing. Do each of these well and you will be unlikely to fail as a manager. However, do each of these well and you will not be guaranteed success. To succeed as a manager will require of you an entirely different skill.

pg 83 … they believe that the job of the manager is to mold, or transform, each employee into the perfect version of the role. Great managers don’t. They do the opposite. The One Thing all great managers know about great managing is this: Discover what is unique about each person and capitalize on it.

pg 94 Michelle could have spent untold hours coaching and cajoling Jeffrey to get better at remembering customers’ names, smiling at them, and making friends with them, but she would have had little improvement to show for her efforts. Her time was much better spent determining how to change his role so that he could have to do less of this and more and more of those activities for which he displayed some natural ability.

pg 105 So if you want a person to achieve his utmost and to persist in the face of resistance, reinforce his beliefs in his strengths, even overemphasize these strengths, give him an almost unreasonable confidence that he has what it takes to succeed. Your job is not to provide him with a realistic picture of the limits of his strengths and the liability of his weaknesses – you’re a manager, not a therapist. Your job is to get him to perform.

pg 106 Instead, to combat nonchalance, build up the size of the challenge. Having detailed the outcomes you want, tell him how hard it’s going to be to achieve them. Emphasize their scope, their complexity, their “no one has ever pulled this off before” quality. Do whatever you can to get his attention and make him take his challenge seriously. In short, the state of mind you should try to create in him is one where he has a fully realistic assessment of the difficulty of the challenge ahead of him, and, at the same time, an unrealistically optimistic belief in his ability to overcome it. … And if this person succeeds, should you praise him for his hard work or for his unique strength? Always do the latter. Tell him he succeeded because his strengths carrie d the day.

pg 109 (on failure) The final strategy is the most extreme. If skills and knowledge training produce no improvement, if complementary partnering proves impractical, if no nifty technique can be found, you are going to have to rearrange the employee’s working world so that his weakness is not longer in play.

pg 123 Strengths and weaknesses, triggers, and unique style of learning – these are the three things you must know about a person in order to manage him effectively. But how can you identify them? Well, there’s no substitute for observation. The great manager spends a good deal of time outside his office, walking around, watching each person’s reactions, listening, taking mental notes about what each person is drawn to ad what each person struggles with.

But initially, the best way to identify these levers is to ask a few simple questions and listen carefully to the answers. Of all the questions I’ve experimented with, these five have proven to be the most revealing.

For strengths:
1. What was your best day at work you’ve had in the last three months? What were you dong? Why did you enjoy it so much?
For weaknesses:
2. What was your worst day at work in the last three months? What were you doing? Why did it grate on you so much? (also insight on this from pg 217)
For triggers:
3. What was the best relationship with a manager you’ve ever had? What made it work so well?
4. What was the best praise or recognition you’ve ever received? What made it so good?
And for unique learning style:
5. When in your career do you think you were learning the most? Why did you learn so much? What’s the best way for you to learn?

pg 132 So, while great managers discover what is unique about each person and capitalize on it, great leaders do the inverse. The One Thing every great leader knows he must do is: Discover what is universal and capitalize on it.

pg 143 The job of a leader is to rally people toward a better future. … The only one that deals explicitly with the future is the third one, our fear of the future. The first two are inherently static… will preserve the status quo. In contrast, if you can come to grips with the third universal, if you can grapple with our fear of the future and somehow neutralize it, even turn it into something positive, you will have positioned yourself to pull off something truly significant as a leader.

pg 155 This brings us up to 2003. Despite Best Buy’s success, Brad decided that a further change was required. He’s the kind of leader who views success as the art of leaping from one burning platform to the next and who, if he sees that the current platform isn’t burning, will be more than pleased to set it on fire.

pg 174 If you want people to follow you confidently into a better future, take a leaf out of Preston’s (Borax) book. Tell them clearly where their core strength lies, and thus focused, thus fortified, they will do everything in their power to make it come true.

pg 177 If you want to design a balanced scorecard, keep it to yourself and your fellow executives. Pull it out at board meetings. Refer to it at executive retreats. Use it on the performance scorecards of your direct reports if you wish. But don’t broadcast it to us. … If you want us to follow you into the future, you must cut through its complexity and give us one metric, one number to track our progress. Give us a score that we can do something about, or that measures how well we are serving the people you have told us we should be serving. … A balanced scorecard is a device to help him manage, not lead. It will help him set expectations for one person, but it will not help him bring clarity to many people. Only something like his “our strength is our safety” can do this, and this is why he focuses on, publicizes, and celebrates one core score: number of lost-time injuries.

pg 179 Although Best Buy’s success could be measured in a variety of different ways, Brad’s bet was that if each store could increase the number of its engaged employees it would subsequently see an increase in the more traditional measures of corporate success. The numbers have borne him out. Today he can point to data that show that across the entire Best Buy enterprise an increase in employee engagement of 2 percent (as measured by the twelve employee survey questions) results in an additional $70 million in profitability. (Amanda’s note – wow! direct financial impact from employee engagement results!)

pg 180 In highlighting the achievements of these leaders, my point is not that each of them picked the one “right” score. There is no “right” score. … My point here is that by zeroing in on one score these leaders brought clarity to their people. This clarity made people more confident, more persistent, more resilient, and more creative, and these qualities then spilled over, or “rippled” to use Brad Anderson’s word, into all areas of the enterprise.

If you want to match their achievements, you should do the same. Sort through all the scores available and pick one that fits whom your people are trying to serve, or that quantifies the strength you say they possess, and, most importantly, that they can do something to affect. Ideally this score will be a leading indicator of success, such as employee engagement or employee safety or crime, rather than a trailing indicator, such as sales or profit or tax revenues, but, from the perspective of your followers, what matters most is that it’s clear.

pg 196 I am not suggesting that you strive to achieve the same rhetorical prowess as Dr. King. He was blessed with a talent for oratory that few of us will ever possess. But you can learn from his lesson. Discipline yourself to practice you descriptions of the future. Experiment with word combinations. Discard the ones that fall flat and keep returning again and again to the ones that seem to resonate and provide us with the clarity we seek.

… Effective leaders don’t have to be passionate. They don’t have to be charming. They don’t have to be brilliant. They don’t have to possess the common touch. They don’t have to be great speakers. What they must be is clear. Above all else, they must never forget the truth that of all the human universals – our need for security, for community, for authority, and for respect – our need for clarity, when met, is the most likely to engender in us confidence, persistence, resilience, and creativity.

Show us clearly who we should seek to serve, show us where our core strength lies, show us which score we should focus on and which actions must be taken today, and we will reward you by working our hearts out to make our better future come true.

pg 202 “Remember, you said that according to Gallup research only twenty percent of people report that they are in a role where they have a chance to do what they do best every day, and that the rest of the working world feels like their strengths are not being called upon every day.” Of course I remembered… On one level it is sad that so many people feel miscast, but, on another level, what a wonderful untapped resource for any manager or company insightful enough to use it. (Thus, the ‘twenty percenters‘.)

pg 217 … what is it with the twenty percenters in your life? … Either subliminally or consciously, they remembered the One Thing we all need t know to sustain our success: Discover what you don’t like doing and stop doing it.

pg 218 To bring this discipline to mind, stop reading for a moment and try to recall an event in which you struggled. … Obviously, I have no idea what you are thinking about. But I can tell you that your sustained success depends on your ability to reflect on events such as these, to use them to identify those things that weaken you, and then, as efficiently as possible, to cut these out of your life. The more effective you are at this, the more successful you will be. Freed from the friction of these things that weaken you, you will then be able to unleash fully the power of your strengths. (Amanda’s note: talk about the ultimate ‘operational friction’!)

pg 224 Sustained success means making the greatest possible impact over the longest period of time. …How? .. The more of a commodity you are, the less successful you will be. Or, as Peter Drucker once said, “Something special must leave the room when you leave the room.” (Amanda’s note this reminds me of a colleague’s coaching question: For what do you want to be known?)

pg 242 As an adult, where are you likely to learn the most, or, in biospeak, where are you likely to see the greatest growth in your synaptic connections? Since the least biolgically costly way to forge new connections is to piggyback on connections already in place, you will actually grow the most new connections in the area of your brain where you already have the most existing connections. … Most of your learning should be targeted towards those areas where you have already achieved some level of mastery. If you have a natural ability to solve problems, or to build relationships, or to compete, or to anticipate the needs of others, you wil be the most bang from your learning buck from stretching, refining, and focusing these abilities. In these areas of mastery, your synaptic branches are already in place. Here new buds of learning will flourish. (Amanda’s note: hence learning dirtbiking and snowboarding for me!)

pg 257 … And yes, as you experience some measure of success, you should feel free to experiment, to try new roles and responsibilities and see how they fit. However, as you grow, as you experience success, you must keep your senses alert to those aspects of your role that bore you, or frustrate you, or drain you. Whenever you become aware of some aspect you dislike, do not try to work through it. Do not chalk it up to the realities of life. Do not put up with it. Instead, cut it out of your life as fast as you can. Eradicate it.

pg 260 The most successful people scuplt their jobs so that they spent a disproportionate amount of time doing what they love. This doesn’t happen by accident. It happens because they stay alert to those activities that they don’t like and cut them out as quickly as possible. They jealously guard their “doing what I love” time. … the moment that you perceive you are spending less than 70 percent f your time on things you love to do, identify the activities getting in the way and take action to remove them. The more effective you are at this, the more creative, the more resilient, the more valuable, and thus the more successful you will be.

pg 284 To excel as a manager you must never forget that each of your direct reports is unique and your chief responsibility is not to eradicate this uniqueness, but rather to arrange roles, responsibilities, and expectations so that you can capitalize upon it. The more you perfect this skill, the more effectively you will turn talents into performance.

To excel as a leader requires the opposite skill. You must become adept at calling upon those needs we all share. Our common needs include the need for security, for community, for authority, and for respect, but, for you, the leader, the most powerful universal need is our need for clarity. To transform our fear of the unknown into confidence in the future, you must discipline yourself to describe our joint future so vividly and precisely. As your skill at this grows, so will our confidence in you.

And last, you must remember that your sustained success depends on your ability to cut out of your working life those activities, or people, that pull you off your strengths’ path. Your leader can show you clearly your better future. You manager can draft you on to the team and cast you in the right role on the team. However, it will always be your responsibility to make the small but significant course corrections that allow you to sustain your highest and best contribution to this team, and to the better future it is charged with creating. The more skilled you are at this, the more valued, and fulfilled, and successful you will become.

… To learn more about The One Thing You Need to Know, please visit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *