While researching their best-selling book, “First, Break All the Rules,” co-authors Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman interviewed over 80,000 managers in more than 400 companies. They wanted to learn what separates managers who are truly great from those who are just adequate. Surprisingly, among the great managers, Buckingham and Coffman found more differences than similarities. However, they did find one common belief that was held by all the great managers: “People don’t change that much.” This common belief led the great managers to behave very consistently in four critical roles. To learn more about those critical roles, please continue reading below.
“Consider how hard it is to change yourself and you’ll understand what little chance you have when trying to change others.” ~ Jacob M. Braude
Great managers accept that nobody is good at everything . . . everyone has both strengths and weaknesses. They also recognize that trying shore up people’s weaknesses is a fool’s errand, so they don’t waste their time trying. Instead, they focus on people’s strengths and try to make them better at what they already do well.
This idea that you should work on developing people’s strengths rather than trying to correct their weaknesses led Buckingham and Coffman to the “Four Keys” of great managers. These are the four key roles that distinguish great managers from their not-so-great counterparts.
Hiring. Great managers hire for talent, not simply for knowledge, experience, and skills. NOTE: Buckingham and Coffman make a distinction between talent and skill. Skills can be taught, talents cannot. You can teach someone to run a piece of machinery or to handle bookkeeping tasks, but you can’t teach someone to run a 50-yard dash in record time. Knowledge, experience, and skills are important, but those can all be developed on the job. So great managers focus their attention on whether or not an applicant already has the talent he or she will need to be successful in a particular job because, as we’ve said, you can’t teach talent.
Setting expectations. Great managers are focused on outcomes, not on the way a person must achieve those outcomes. Not-so-great managers cling the flawed theory that there is one, and only one, best way to perform a particular task and that their job is to make sure people are following each and every step of the process laid out for them without deviating or cutting any corners. More enlightened managers, recognizing that there is always more than one way to skin a cat, give their people leeway to do it “their way” . . . as long as the expected outcome is achieved.
Motivating. Not-so-great managers are committed to “fixing” the weaknesses they perceive in their people. In the view of Buckingham and Coffman, great managers let their people “become more of who they already are.” Think about it. Would you be more motivated by a manager who encourages you to grow and develop in a role where you can excel? Or by a manager who wants to make you better in an activity for which you have no talent, interest, or passion?
Developing. There’s an old saying that, “When you promote your best salesperson to sales manager, you lose a good salesperson and gain a lousy sales manager.” That saying recognizes that selling and managing are very different activities, and that just because you’re good at one doesn’t mean you’ll be good at the other. So in developing people, great managers focus, not just on the next rung of the ladder, but on where an individual’s strengths and talents can be put to the highest and best use.
Above all, great managers recognize that each individual is unique . . . a unique blend of knowledge, experience, skills, talents, and behaviors. So to get the best from people, a one-size-fits-all management approach will not work. Instead, great managers customize their approach to each individual in a way designed to identify that individual’s unique strengths and abilities, and then to put those strengths and abilities to the best use possible.
Sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? It is. But that’s why only the great managers do it.