October 2005 - Great Management and Leadership
Just One Thing: Unlocking the Key to Great Management and Leadership
Our guest author this month is Marcus Buckingham, who has studied management, leadership and the key traits that make people successful. After many years of research with thousands of people, his insights have led him to write three best-selling books and travel the world sharing his wisdom. This article offers a peek into his most recent book, The One Thing You Need to Know, which is a "must read" for those who seek to improve their business success.
Marcus Buckingham has concluded that great managers are those that are able to identify the unique talents in each person and then leverage those talents. Great managers treat each person differently based on understanding each individual’s personality and motivations. Importantly, great managers don’t invest their time in remedying their people’s shortcomings. Instead they focus on maximizing their unique talents. Great managers don’t see people as a means to an end; they see further developing a person’s unique talents as the end in itself.
In contrast, great leaders find what is shared among all members of a group and capitalize on it; they are optimists who rally people to a better future. Most commonly what is shared by groups is a fear of the future. Great leaders turn this anxiety into confidence by providing great clarity regarding who the organization serves, what its core strengths are, how the organization will keep score (with focus on one specific measure) and what actions can be taken immediately. Great leaders don’t always have the right answers, but they are confident and decisive in rallying followers with a clear vision and direction.
With enough research and focus, insights can usually be boiled down to "just one thing."
Because the world is so complex, it is valuable to distill information down to controlling insights that guide action. This is the premise behind the concept of "just one thing." However, to become a controlling insight, three tests must be passed:
A controlling insight must guide action. It must point to precise actions to be taken, with specific effects.
The chief responsibility of a manager is to turn a person’s talent into performance.
People join companies but leave managers. A person’s manager influences how long the person stays at an organization and how effectively the person performs. A manager is a catalyst for performance, speeding up talent and making that talent work harder. (Talent is defined as a naturally recurring pattern of thought, feeling or behavior. Being responsible or competitive or able to have empathy are all talents.)
The one thing you need to know about great managers: They find what is unique about each person and capitalize on it.
Great managers recognize that each person has unique talents and motivations and they seek to understand and leverage these uniquenesses. They build their teams to maximize the unique talents and contributions of each person on the team. In doing so, they are proponents of "individualization" where they treat each person differently based on that person’s talents and motivations. Great managers may standardize the outcomes, but individualize how each person goes about achieving those outcomes.
Average managers play checkers while great managers play chess. In checkers all of the pieces move in the same homogenous way, but in chess, each piece moves differently. Great managers understand the differences in each piece and coordinate the team to take advantage of the individual strengths.
Great managers think very differently about developing their people — focusing on the strengths.
At most companies, managers review their people by focusing primarily on a person’s weaknesses or "opportunities," and development emphasizes addressing shortcomings. A typical one-hour performance discussion might spend 2 minutes focused on what a person does well and 58 minutes on what needs to be improved. In most instances, this is not development; it is damage control and it is not a formula for greatness or winning.
In contrast, great managers spend 80% of their time working to grow an employee’s greatest strengths. Investing to develop a person’s greatest talent is how breakthrough performance can be achieved. This means not that great managers ignore shortcomings, but that they focus on the talent and work around the shortcomings. Ways this can be achieved include changing people’s jobs, allowing them to spend most of their time where their talent fits best; partnering an employee with another individual with complementary talents; or helping a person get "just a little bit better" to avoid glaring weaknesses.
Even with this approach, there will be non-performers. If after training is provided to develop skills there is no change in performance, the individual simply lacks the necessary talent. Great managers recognize this as a casting error. Instead of investing further to try to fix the person, they focus instead on fixing the problem.
Truly great managers do not see peop4e merely as a means to an end; they see people as the end. Great managers are personally motivated by being able to identify people's talents and then more fully develop them.
A leader’s chief responsibility is to rally people to a better future.
Rallying people requires that leaders have innate optimism. Great leaders are not unrealistic; in fact they are grounded in reality. However, they are spurred on by a core belief that things can be better in the future than they are today. They are able to create a vision of this future and rally others to support it. In addition, great leaders have egos in that they believe they are the ones to make this better future come true. (Ego gets bad press. Ego does not mean arrogance; it is self-assurance and self-confidence.) Importantly, great leaders channel their egos not to benefit themselves but to build their enterprise.
The one thing you need to know about great leaders: They find what is universal and capitalize on it.
While great managers find what is unique and leverage it, great leaders find what is shared. The most relevant characteristic that is shared by all people is a fear of an unknown future. (This fear has led people to rituals and gurus to help deal with it.) Leaders deal in the unknown. They have to turn legitimate anxiety into confidence. The most effective way to do this is through clarity.
Specifically, followers are begging for and great leaders provide, clear answers to the following four key questions:
Most importantly, great leaders do not necessarily have the right answers to these questions — in many cases there are no "right answers." But, they provide answers that are clear, specific and vivid. Their followers know exactly who they serve, how they will win, how to keep score to know if they are winning and what they can go do today.
Great leaders develop three important disciplines:
Other Important Points
An anthropologist studied all cultures in the history of the world to find those elements that are universally shared. The result is a list of more than 300 characteristics that all cultures possess. These include loving one’s family, fearing outsiders and enemies, taking turns, joking with others and even tickling.
During his 17 years with The Gallup Organization, Marcus Buckingham helped lead their research into the world’s best managers, leaders and workplaces. Buckingham has taken his broad experience in management practices and employee retention and put it into two best-selling books: First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Best Managers Do Differently (Simon and Schuster) and Now, Discover Your Strengths (The Free Press). His new book, The One Thing You Need To Know (The Free Press) was published in March 2005.
Buckingham’s presentations take the key points of these books, combined with plenty of great examples from a wide variety of organizations, to show audiences how they can learn from the world’s best managers and leaders. A wonderful resource for leaders, managers and educators, Buckingham challenges conventional wisdom and shows the link between engaged employees and productivity, profit, customer satisfaction and the rate of turnover. Buckingham graduated from Cambridge University in 1987 with a master’s degree in Social and Political Science.
Copyright © 2005, Marcus Buckingham, all rights reserved. Article used with permission of the author. Thanks, Marcus!
When you're able to poke gentle fun at the corporate cosmos without being offensive,
it provides a pleasant release.
Leadership has a harder job to do than just choose sides. It must bring sides together.
Somebody's Law of Management Decision Making, which states
"Knowledge replaces confidence" and its corollaries:
About our resource links: We do not endorse or agree with all the beliefs in these links. We do keep an open mind about different viewpoints and respect the ability of our readers to decide for themselves what is useful.
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Page updated: March 31, 2014
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