The One Thing You Need to Know: About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success by Marcus Buckingham
I knew I was going to like this book by Marcus Buckingham when right at the beginning he introduced the angle this book would take, which was to find the main “controlling insight” for a few very important areas of business. He defines a controlling insight as the best explanation, which has to apply across a wide range of situations, has to serve as a multiplier (elevating performance from good to great), and has to guide action. Actually, I also knew I was going to like this because because I found an article on Harvard Business Review that covers the management topic. I highly recommend this book for those in management and leadership positions. I found a lot of action items in this so this is a longer, more detailed post.
I love a good data-driven analysis that is carefully crafted into a concise, easy-to-remember phrase to guide action. In a bit of an odd twist, he goes on to explain that the controlling insight into marriages that last is when each spouse tends to rate the other more favorably and generously:
For a lasting marriage, find the most generous explanation for each other’s behavior, and believe it.
The book then goes on to talk about management and leadership. Management is generally concerned with what individuals do, and actually producing a product and meeting goals. Leadership is about setting goals. The one thing that managers need to know is:
Discover what is unique about each person and capitalize on it.
Great managers turn talent into performance. Management is all about the individual, and helping them to succeed. The premise of the book is that talents (as opposed to knowledge and skills) are not learnable. So managers should find out what their employees talents are, and make sure their assignments align well. This will save time, increase accountability, and builds a stronger sense of team.
There are 3 things you need to know about your employees to manage them effectively:
- Strengths and Weaknesses. Thinking particularly of talents, not knowledge or skills.
- Triggers. What motivation gets them to do their best?
- Style of learning. Analyzing, doing, or watching.
Questions to ask employees to understand how they work best:
- Strengths: What was the best day at work you’ve had in the last 3 months?
- Weaknesses: What was your worst day at work in the last 3 months?
- Triggers: What was the best relationship with a manager you’ve ever had?
- Triggers: What was the best praise or recognition you’ve ever received?
- Learning: When in your career do you think you were learning the most?
A manager’s strongest talent is to coach others toward success. Managers should have 4 basic skills:
- Select good people. When interviewing ask open ended questions and if they do the thing you’re looking for often enough, they’ll come up with an example from recent memory.
- Define clear expectations: “What do you think you get paid to do?”
Learn how each employee is different and then learn how each of these differences fit into your overall plan of action.
Marcus’s definition of leadership is that great leaders rally people to a better future. The one thing leaders must know is:
Discover What is Universal and Capitalize on it.
The better you do this, the better you will lead. Note that it tends to be the opposite of a manger, where they need to discover what is unique about each employee. According to researchers, there are 5 universal human needs: security, community, clarity, authority, and respect. The job of a leader is to provide clarity, particularly in the following 4 areas:
- Who is our target customer? And it should not be the shareholder. Best Buy had great examples of having each store focus on certain segments, such as “mobile professionals.”
- What is our core strength? The book shared examples of “knowledgeable retail staff,” and “the safest work sites.” Even if it’s not true now, it can be a clarifying vision of strength.
- What is our core score? A prison system decided to change it metrics from measuring escapees to measuring repeat offenders. Best Buy measures employee engagement with surveys.
- What actions can we take today? Direct leadership action sets the tone for other employees. Set up inter-organizational meetings to cut through politics. Strategic actions force employees to become involved in new activities. Symbolic action grabs our attention and gives us focus.
The talent of a great leader is to have optimism and ego. Otherwise you can’t lead people to a better future. If you want to improve your skills, there are 3 prevalent disciplines that will help leaders increase their clarity:
- Take time to reflect.
- Select your heroes (recognized employees) with great care. They should model behavior you want others to emulate.
- Practice. Experiment with word combinations to find clarity.
The final part of the book focuses on how to achieve sustained personal success. He claims that only 20% of people report working in a role where they can do their best work every day. The one thing you need to know to sustain your success is:
Discover what you don’t like doing and stop doing it.
The reason why this is written in negative form, is because you’re constantly having a mix of talents in play in your work. You might like training, but hate public speaking. Well, you’d better not get promoted from curriculum writer to public speaker, despite the fact that you’d still be doing training (your strength). So while it’s pretty easy to find ways to do your strengths, it’s a lot harder to remember to avoid your weaknesses. Every 3 months ask yourself: “What percentage of your day do you spend doing those things you really like to do?” Four tactics that will help you find strengths and avoid weaknesses: Quit the role, tweak the role, seek out the right partners, or find an aspect that brings you strength.