06 April 2012

An MBA Book Club, Part 4

First, Break All the Rules
Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman


The world’s best managers defy conventional wisdom—the rules—by individualizing their approach to each employee depending on that employee’s unique and innate strengths.  This strengths-based method allows employees to focus on those tasks at which they are best and from which they derive the most satisfaction.  By gearing the selection, evaluation, and placement processes toward cultivating these inherent talents, and by getting out of the way by defining desired outcomes (but not tactics), average manages become great managers.

Favorite Quotes

·         Advice for new managers: “Pick the right people.  Once you’ve picked them, trust them.  Don’t overpromote people. Never pass the buck. Make very few promises to your people and keep them all” (p 16).
·         ‘“The most valuable aspects of jobs now are the most essentially human tasks: sensing judging, creating, and building relationships.’  This means that a great deal of a company’s value ‘lies between the ears of its employees’ and when someone leave the company, he takes his value with him—more often than not straight to the competition” (p 23).
·         Isaac Newton splitting light with a prism in order to see its composite parts (p 27)
·         The twelve questions most indicative of a superior manager:
1.      Do I know what is expected of me at work?
2.      Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
3.      At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
4.      In the last seven days, have I received recognition of praise for doing good work?
5.      Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
6.      Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
7.      At work, do my opinions seem to count?
8.      Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
9.      Are my coworkers committed to doing quality work?
10.  Do I have a best friend at work?
11.  In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
12.  This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?
·         “People leave managers, not companies” (p 33).
·         The frog and the scorpion (p 56)
·         “Everyone can probably do something better than ten thousand other people” (p 148).
·         “Self-discovery is the driving, guiding force for a healthy career” (p 194).
·         “Consistent poor performance is not primarily a matter of weakness, stupidity, disobedience, or disrespect.  It is a matter of mis-casting” (p 209).
·         Effective performance management routines: simple, frequent, focused on the future, employees keep track of their own performance (p 223).


Reading this book after Buckingham’s newer effort was actually more helpful, I think, than if I had read them the other way around.  For me, the order “First, Discover Your Strengths” and “Now, Figure Out How to Help Others to Do So” makes way more sense.

Although I will not initially be cast in a managerial role at Amazon, this book provided me some tools to proactively self-manage.  I found Gallup’s twelve indicator questions to be particularly helpful in evaluating my job satisfaction and engagement, not only in my past and future employment, but also in my present schooling and Church membership.

As an aspiring economist, I firmly believe in the doctrine of specialization, and in that regard this book preaches to the choir.  In my personal life, however, I have a hard time just giving up on areas in which I struggle (unless you count singing, of course).  I think that it will become increasingly important for me to find talents to emphasize, even at the expense of my self-view as a “jack-of-all-trades.”

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