I first came across Buckingham’s work with “First, Break All The Rules,” which I expected to be yet another jargony paean to the “New Economy” madness of the late 90s, yet turned out to be a keen and insightful book that was grounded in decades of research. The essential insight there is that great managers focus on matching up each contributor’s unique set of strengths with its ideal role in the organization, rather than trying to “improve” people.
His next book, “Now Discover Your Strengths,” further explored the implications of this by helping individuals figure out their strengths. The book even includes a token to let you take the StrengthsFinder quiz to discover your own strengths (at least according to an online quiz). Those who are curious, let me know, and I’ll email you my results.
“The One Thing You Need To Know” is both a recap and the culmination of the first two books. It re-examines great managers in order to draw the distinction between management and leadership. It turns out that the characteristics of great managers are not necessarily those of great leaders.
According to Buckingham, great leaders rally people to a better future. They transform our fear of the unknown into confidence in the future by defining the future in such vivid terms that all their followers can see where they are headed.
While parts of the book repeat his prior work, I see this as a benefit, rather than a flaw. “The One Thing You Need To Know” thus works as a standalone book, and may be one of the most valuable I’ve ever read. I’ll leave you with Buckingham’s final paragraphs, which are a stirring summation of his work:
“To excel as a manager, you must never forget that each of your direct reports is unique and that 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 vividly and precisely. As your skill in 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. Your manager can draft you onto the team and cast you into 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.
As we’ve seen in each of these roles, the critical skill is not balance, but its inverse, intentional imbalance. The great manager bets that he will prevail by magnifying, emphasizing, and then capitalizing on each employee’s uniqueness. The great leader comes to a conclusion about his core customer, his organization’s strength, its core score, and the actions he will commit to right now, and then, in the service of clarity, banishes from his thought and conversation almost everything else. The sustainably effective individual, by rigorously removing the irritants from his working life, engages with the world in an equally imbalanced fashion.”