The One Thing You Need to Know: ... About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success
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Following the success of the landmark bestsellers First, Break All the Rules and Now, Discover Your Strengths, Marcus Buckingham offers a dramatically new way to understand the art of success.
With over 1.6 million copies of First, Break All the Rules (co-authored with Curt Coffman) and Now, Discover Your Strengths (co-authored with Donald O. Clifton) in print, Cambridge-educated Buckingham is considered one of the most respected business authorities on the subject of management and leadership in the world. With The One Thing You Need to Know, he gives readers an invaluable course in outstanding achievement -- a guide to capturing the essence of the three most fundamental areas of professional activity.
Great managing, leading, and career success -- Buckingham draws on a wealth of applicable examples to reveal that a controlling insight lies at the heart of the three. Lose sight of this "one thing" and even the best efforts will be diminished or compromised. Readers will be eager to discover the surprisingly different answers to each of these rich and complex subjects. Each could be explained endlessly to detail their many facets, but Buckingham's great gift is his ability to cut through the mass of often-conflicting agendas and zero in on what matters most, without ever oversimplifying. As he observes, success comes to those who remain mindful of the core insight, understand all of its ramifications, and orient their decisions around it. Buckingham backs his arguments with authoritative research from a wide variety of sources, including his own research data and in-depth interviews with individuals at every level of an organization, from CEO's to hotel maids and stockboys.
In every way a groundbreaking book, The One Thing You Need to Know offers crucial performance and career lessons for business people at all career stages.
- Amazon Sales Rank: #61525 in Books
- Published on: 2005-03-07
- Released on: 2005-03-07
- Original language: English
- Number of items: 1
- Dimensions: 1.03" h x 6.29" w x 9.25" l, 1.21 pounds
- Binding: Hardcover
- 304 pages
About the Author
Marcus Buckingham spent seventeen years at the Gallup Organization, where he conducted research into the world's best leaders, managers, and workplaces. The Gallup research later became the basis for the bestselling books First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Best Managers Do Differently (Simon & Schuster) and Now, Discover Your Strengths (Free Press), both coauthored by Buckingham. Buckingham has been the subject of in-depth profiles in The New York Times, Fortune, BusinessWeek and Fast Company. He now has his own company, providing strengths-based consulting, training, and e-learning. In 2007 Buckingham founded TMBC to create strengths-based management training solutions for organizations worldwide, and he spreads the strengths message in keynote addresses to over 250,000 people around the globe each year. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife Jane and children Jackson and Lilia. For more information visit: marcusbuckingham.com
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Chapter One: A Few Things You Should Know About the "One Thing"
"Get me to the core"
"If you dig into a subject deeply enough, what do you find?"
In one sense this book began with a conversation with Carrie Tolstedt in a hotel lobby in Los Angeles. Carrie is the head of Wells Fargo's regional banking group, a position she has held for the last four years and in which she has been inordinately successful. As with many effective leaders, though, she is by nature self-critical. Despite the fact that she had just delivered a rousing speech to her regional managers, I was not overly surprised to find her standing off by herself looking a little dissatisfied.
"What's up?" I said. "The speech went really well." One always tends to offer reassurance to speakers after a speech, but in this case it was accurate. She had been speaking on the subject of customer service and how, with most banking products being a commodity in the marketplace, Wells Fargo would live or die based on the quality of its service. This message isn't new, either for Wells Fargo or the wider business world, and in the wrong hands it can pretty quickly descend into cliché. But Carrie had managed to keep the message coherent, the stories personal, and the examples vivid and powerful. It was a good speech.
"I don't know," she replied. "Sometimes I'm not sure how effective these speeches really are. The regional managers will now try to pass the message on to their district managers, and inevitably it will get tweaked in some way, changed somehow. Then it'll get changed again when the district managers pass it on to their store managers, and again when the store supervisors hear it, until, by the time it reaches the people who can really use it -- our customer service reps and personal bankers -- it will be significantly altered.
"Don't get me wrong, it's good that each level of my organization adds its own spin, but still, I sometimes think that the only way to keep this organization on the same page about customer service is to boil it down to its essence. My message should be so simple and so clear that, across all forty-three thousand employees, everyone comes to know what's at the core."
At the time, I think I mumbled something about being sure that her message would get through to where it mattered most, but on a subliminal level her wish -- to see a subject so clearly that she could describe its essence simply, but without oversimplification -- must have registered. For weeks thereafter, no matter where I went on my travels, no matter whom I was talking to, I seemed to hear the same wish: "Get me to the heart of the matter."
Sure, the subject in question varied. Some people wanted to know the organizing principle of great management. Others were more interested in the essence of great leadership. Others asked about the driving force behind a successful career. But everywhere the wish was the same: Get me to the core.
Now, I suppose I could have chalked these wishes up to intellectual laziness. Why struggle with complex reality when you can skate by on the PowerPoint version of life instead? But this is a rather uncharitable and, in the end, unhelpful interpretation. We are all attracted to clarified versions of reality not because we are intellectually lazy, but because these versions often wind up being so useful. Take winter, spring, summer, and fall as an example. The four seasons are the PowerPoint version of the weather. Certainly they leave out a great deal of complexity, exception, and local variation, but nonetheless they've helped generations of farmers time their sowing and harvesting.
If there were any charges of intellectual laziness to be leveled, they probably should have been leveled at me. For seventeen years I had the good fortune to work with one of the most respected research organizations in the world, the Gallup Organization. During this time, I was given the opportunity to interview some of the world's best leaders, managers, teachers, salespeople, stockbrokers, lawyers, and all manner of public servants. The fact that I hadn't isolated a few core insights at the heart of great leadership, or managing, or sustained individual success didn't mean that these insights didn't exist. It simply meant I hadn't yet been focused enough to get it done.
Carrie's wish, and the many similar wishes I heard in the months following, pushed me to get focused. Since people wanted to reach down into the heart of the matter, I was, I realized, in a perfect position to help them get there. My research experiences at Gallup mostly consisted of surveying large numbers of people in the hopes of finding broad patterns in the data. Now, in my effort to get to the core, I would use this foundation as the jumping-off point for deeper, more immersive, more individualized research. I wouldn't survey a large number of good performers. Instead I would identify one or two elite players, one or two people who, in their chosen roles and fields, had measurably, consistently, and dramatically outperformed their peers. In the end these individuals covered a wide range, from the executive who transformed a failing drug into the best-selling prescription drug in the world, the president of one of the world's largest retailers, the customer service representative who sold more than fifteen hundred Gillette deodorants in one month, the miner who hadn't suffered a single workplace injury in over fifty years, all the way to the screenwriter who penned such blockbusters as Jurassic Park and Spider-Man.
And having identified them, I planned to investigate the practical, seemingly banal details of their actions and their choices. Why did the executive turn down repeated promotions before taking on the challenge of turning around that failing drug? Why did the retail president invoke the memories of his working-class upbringing when defining his company's strategy? The deodorant-selling customer service representative works the night shift. Is this relevant to her performance? One of her hobbies is weightlifting. Odd? Yes, but can it in any way explain why she is so successful so consistently? What was each of these special people actually doing that made them so very good at their role?
I have chosen to focus this deep dive on the three roles that are the most critical if you are to achieve something significant in your life and then sustain and expand this achievement, namely the roles of manager, leader, and individual performer. In part 1 of the book we focus on the two roles that underpin sustained organizational success.
What is the One Thing you need to know about great managing?
To get the best performance from your people, you have to be able to execute a number of different roles very well. You have to be able to select people effectively. You have to set expectations by defining clearly the outcomes you want. You have to motivate people by focusing on their strengths and managing around their weaknesses. And, as they challenge you to help them grow, you have to learn how to steer them toward roles that truly fit them, rather than simply promoting them up the corporate ladder.
Each of these roles involves significant subtlety and complexity. But, without denying this complexity, is there one deep insight that underpins all of these roles and that all great managers keep in the top of their minds? The chapter on great managing supplies the answer.
What is the One Thing you need to know about great leading?
When you study truly effective leaders, the first thing that strikes you is just how different they are. I could use any number of examples from today's business world, but instead, think back to the first four presidents of the United States. Although each of them experienced great success in rallying people toward a better future, their styles could not have been more dissimilar. George Washington's leadership style was to project an image of soundness and constancy, but he is not remembered as an inspiring visionary. In direct contrast, the second U.S. president, John Adams, was an inspiring visionary. He was so gifted a public speaker that he could hold a vociferous Congress in rapt silence for hours. However, as his struggles following the end of the Revolutionary War revealed, he was at his best only when railing against a perceived foe -- which, most of the time, happened to be Great Britain.
His successor, Thomas Jefferson, did not require a foe to bring out the best in him. Sitting alone at his writing desk he could conjure compelling word pictures from the blank sheets in front of him -- and yet, in contrast to Adams, he so feared public speaking that he changed the protocol so that all of his State of the Union addresses were written out and then handed to an assistant who ran down the street and delivered them to Congress.
James Madison was different again. He was a small man with a light voice who was unable to rely on inspiring word pictures to lead. Undeterred, he opted for a more pragmatic, political approach, working the floor of Congress and, one by one, building the alliances necessary to advance his agenda.
Despite these obvious differences and imperfections, each of these individuals is rightly upheld as a model of excellence in leadership. Thus, my question for the chapter on great leading is "When you study models of excellence in leadership -- whether 250-year-old models or those of the present -- can you look past the superficial idiosyncrasies and identify one primary insight that explains why they excel?"
In part 2 we shift our focus to sustained individual success.
What is the One Thing you need to know about sustained individual success?
During the course of your life you will inevitably be exposed to all manner of options, opportunities, and pressures. The key to sustaining success is to be able to filter all these possibilities and fasten on to those few that will allow you to express the best of yourself. But what filter should you use? Should you ac...
A veteran researcher and consultant gives a superb lesson on how to thrive in any organizational role. The "one thing" is a brilliant distillation of years of management theory and the author's own insights about human nature. His obvious comfort and deep well of experience make his comments both enjoyable and credible. While giving credit to the spectrum of management advice in common usage, his ideas sound fresh and original, and he offers many suggestions for putting them into practice. To achieve individually, he says, do what energizes you and eliminate what drains you. If you can't quit a role, tweak it, find the right partner, or find an aspect of the role that brings you strength. Top-shelf advice delivered flawlessly by a true organizational visionary. T.W. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2005, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine
Most helpful customer reviews
120 of 121 people found the following review helpful.
Full of quality, though some of it is recycled material
By Stosh D. Walsh
Buckingham's book is very good overall; the practical anecdotes he provides of people actually DOING the "one thing" are compelling, and his style is entertaining, and yet no-nonsense.
In giving us "the one thing," Buckingham emphasizes the need for what he calls the "controlling insight" to provide a means not only for getting on to the field of play, but "how to win and keep winning the game."
Armed with this description, he unveils what, based on his considerable experience and research, he considers the controlling insight about great managing, great leading, and sustained individual success.
Here are the "one things" for each:
Managing: "Discover what is unique about each person and capitalize on it."
Leading: "Discover what is universal and capitalize on it."
Sustained individual success: "Discover what you don't like doing and stop doing it."
Along the way, Buckingham provides some excellent points of focus, including a very important differentiation between managing and leading that too many of his contemporaries have overlooked: "When you want to manage, begin with the person. When you want to lead, begin with the picture of where you are headed."
Predictably though, much of the argument for each of the three controlling insights is predicated upon strengths theory, which Buckingham and Clifton popularized with "Now, Discover Your Strengths." In the management chapter, the anecdotes more or less focus on individuals who are able to identify the strengths of their people, and put them to the best possible use. In the sustained individual success chapter, he takes strengths theory a step further, advocating not only discovering your strengths and cultivating them, but eliminating, or managing, those areas in which you are weak as a primary (where "Now" made it more secondary) pursuit.
It is primarily for these chapters that I say some of the material is recycled. However, when you have the research to back up the claims, as Gallup (for whom Buckingham no longer works) certainly does with the StrengthsFinder instrument, you can hardly deviate from it very far.
Another way in which the material is somewhat recycled, though, is in its similarity to Collins' "Good to Great." Buckingham praises the work of Collins in some points, but takes minor swipes at it in others. This is a strange irony in the book, as Buckingham's arguments are very similar to those of Collins, just phrased differently. For example: Collins' "level 5 leadership" entails what he calls "The Stockdale Paradox"--a willingness to look at the brutal reality of the situation, but remain hopeful and determined that one will overcome it. Now, from Buckingham: "When I say leaders are optimistic I mean simply that nothing--not their mood, not the reasoned arguments of others, not the bleak conditions of the present--nothing can undermine their faith that things will get better."
Buckingham's slightly different definition of words like optimism (which could easily be defined as hope) and humility cause him to see Collins in a slightly different light, in spite of the fact that their findings are almost exactly the same. I found myself slightly disappointed by this, but I would recommend this book nevertheless, as it is an excellent compendium of insights overall from a man that few would dispute has become a global leader in these areas.
One humorous note: I'm fairly certain Buckingham has signed a two book deal with Free Press, so I'm anxiously awaiting the second book, especially as he has already given us "The One Thing You Need to Know." :-)
45 of 48 people found the following review helpful.
An obviously great approach I've never seen used before.
By M. Strong
Marcus Buckingham is quickly setting himself apart from the current pack of management and leadership gurus out there. He isn't yet in the same league as Peter Drucker or Tom Peters, but he's young and he's headed in their direction.
His latest effort, "The One Thing" joins two instant classics he's already written, "First, Break all the Rules" and "Now, Discover Your Strengths." This book starts with a premise that sounds obvious once you hear it, but that I've never seen used before. Buckingham approaches the complex topics of management, leadership and sustained individual success and asks, "If you wanted to excel in any of these areas, but could focus in on just one single idea, what would be the most important and effective things you could focus on?"
Buckingham then goes on to give you "The One Thing" in each of those areas. His points aren't arrived at frivolously. Buckingham spent years and years working with Gallup, studying and interviewing thousands upon thousands of managers, leaders, and individual contributors, some good and some bad; he knows what separates the wheat from the chaff.
The book is so filled with great insights and "Why didn't I think of that" moments that my copy is all dog-eared and marked up and some of the things I've learned are going into practice as I type this.
Very highly recommended.
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful.
Succinct, readable, and enlightening
By P. Lozar
I thought that *First, Break All the Rules* was brilliant, and this book builds well on the line of thought that Buckingham and his collaborator started there. Plus it's succinct, well-written, and generally a pleasure to read -- which you can't say about a lot of business books!
Some points that particularly struck me were these.
1. The distinction between "management" and "leadership" skills, which are far too often confused: if someone shows leadership potential, their managers assume that the best place for them to exercise it is in a supervisory position. But a visionary leader isn't necessarily a "people person"; so they become frustrated, their direct reports aren't getting the management they need to best express their strengths, and far too much time and energy is wasted in trying to re-form the leader into someone he/she isn't instead of capitalizing on what he/she IS.
2. Why it's hard to learn skills/behaviors that don't build on your strengths (I think he gives just enough neurological information to be convincing and not overwhelming). Of course everyone has to learn *some* things that don't come naturally to them; but if someone with leadership qualities has mastered basic social and interpersonal skills, why try to make them into a mother hen when they could be making a greater contribution as a soaring eagle?
3. Many people have trouble with the One Thing he recommends for everyone: Work, they say, is not supposed to be Fun, and you can't blithely blow off the parts you don't like. However:
(a) Using your strengths to their fullest extent is not always "fun." Challenging, inspiring, and offering the greatest potential for success, yes; but often frustrating, and a whole lot of hard work too. But feeling that you've tapped into your strengths can give you the energy to blow past obstacles that, if you were also fighting your natural tendencies, would seem insurmountable.
(b) If you feel that your job forces you to constantly battle your weaknesses rather than building on your strengths, you're in the wrong job. This often happens when someone is promoted: e.g., the charismatic classroom teacher who becomes a principal, or the brilliant laboratory scientist who's made an administrator. The best thing you can do -- not only for yourself but for the people who have to work with you -- is push to be restored to the position where you can be most effective.
(c) Consider becoming a Free Agent. I was always excellent at my actual job (technical writing), while office politics and climbing the management ladder were highly uncongenial to me -- but, in most companies, that's the only way I could improve my pay/status. I became an independent contractor, work through an agency that handles billing/invoicing et al. (which I'm not good at either), and am paid well for doing what I do best -- and I highly recommend it.
One final comment: I've recently read a couple of graduation addresses, by Steve Jobs and Billy Joel respectively, that urged students to follow their hearts and do what they love, because that's the only route to satisfaction in work and in life. "Easy for them to say," you might grumble; but, although both gentlemen had a modicum of luck in their lives, they're both prime examples of choosing work that capitalizes on their strengths AND working very, very hard to succeed in it -- and succeed they certainly did. Think about it.