“The Third Key: Focus on Strengths” (Chapter 5)


In this week’s reflection of “First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently” by Buckingham and Coffman, we are going to discuss the importance or focusing on strengths and spending time with your best employees.


Each person is different and possesses a unique set of talents. Great managers focus on each person’s strengths and manages around his weaknesses. Don’t try to perfect each person into who you want them to be. Instead, do everything you can to help each person cultivate his talents and become more of who he already is.


“You will have to manage around the weaknesses of each and every employee. But if, with one particular employee, you find yourself spending most of your time managing around weaknesses, then know that you have made a casting error. At this point, it is time to fix the casting error and to stop trying to fix the person.”


The authors bring up the point that a common false narrative exists around the belief that everyone has this unlimited potential to be the best at whatever we want to be. If you overcome fears and strengthen your weaknesses, then you are on your way to maximizing your potential. However, great managers don’t fall into this way of thinking. They believe that if everyone truly has the same potential, then we lose our individuality.


Great managers don’t agree with focusing on and defining an employee by his weaknesses. Let him be defined by his strengths. Provide your employees with self-confidence and they will be more likely to find ways to work around weaknesses. In this book, there are three possible routes defined for helping someone to navigate a weakness: “Devise a support system. Find a complementary partner. Or find an alternative role.”


Great managers also believe that you will become frustrated if you waste your time trying to turn non-talents into talents. Now that is not to say persistence is always a waste of time. It is beneficial when learning a new skill or acquiring new knowledge, just not when dealing with talents. The authors describe less effective managers as being “blind to the distinction between skills and knowledge – both of which can be acquired – and talents – which cannot.” These managers are setting employees up for failure and discouragement when they tell them that if they work hard enough, they can transform non-talents into talents.


“Spend time with your best people.” Another topic brought up in this chapter that really got me thinking in a different way than I had before.


I had never really thought much about this topic until reading this chapter. The authors point out that many managers revert to spending so much time focusing on their “strugglers” or less productive employees and not nearly enough time with their most productive employees. At first, you may think this makes sense. However, the argument made by the authors is that everyone responds well to attention. If you ignore your best because you don’t have to worry about them messing up, then over time you run the risk of them becoming complacent and potentially doing less. Give them the attention they deserve and help them to become even better at what they already excel at. Still make time to help the “strugglers,” but show them that the harder they work, the more attention and recognition they will receive. You can’t spend all of your time holding the hands of those who prove to be less productive. At the end of the day, if a struggler can’t find the self-motivation or discipline to want to become better, then are they really the right person to have on your team?


Another benefit to spending more time with your best employees is that you can learn what they are doing to be the most productive. If you can establish what the best internal practices are within your organization, then you can communicate those best practices with the less productive employees in order to help them improve.


Now, although the authors push the importance of spending more time with their best employees, they don’t discount the importance of helping and guiding their other employees. Great managers still have to find ways to bring the best out of everyone on their team. They just wanted to emphasize the point of spending more time with the best as this is often overlooked by many managers. It is easy to get caught up trying to lift up the under performers and unintentionally ignore the overachievers. Great managers are able to praise and learn from the best so that they can provide more valuable assistance to the “strugglers.”

“The Second Key: Define the Right Outcomes” (Chapter 4)


The focus of this week’s reflection is on the importance of defining the right outcomes for your employees. In “First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently” by Buckingham and Coffman, the authors state, “The hardest thing about being a manager is realizing that your people will not do things the way that you would. But get used to it. Because if you try to force them to, then two things happen. They become resentful – they don’t want to do it. And they become dependent – they can’t do it.”


It is important to find a balance between providing guidance and allowing your employees enough freedom to be comfortable in their environment and to work to their strengths. Buckingham and Coffman state, “Define the right outcomes and then let each person find his own route toward these outcomes.” They go on to say that the most efficient way to turn someone’s talent into performance is to help him find his own path of least resistance toward the desired outcome.


Don’t try to mold or perfect someone’s role for them. The majority of the time, employees will take responsibility of their performance when they are trusted with the work they are doing. Of course, there will always be instances when you face someone who breaks this trust, but if you go into every work relationship with a lack of trust, then it becomes difficult to achieve long term success. It should also make you question why you’ve decided to hire this individual in the first place if you aren’t willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.


Forcing someone to follow a script more than likely will result in them coming off as disingenuous to potential clients. If that’s the case, the customer will not be satisfied, and the desired outcome will not be achieved. A great example of this would be the different closing strategies of a salesman. Some salesmen work best by building relationships, some by showcasing their expertise and belief in the product or service they are selling, and others who are masters of being persuasive. All are different approaches one could take to achieving the same outcome, a sale. Don’t put your employees in a box where they feel uncomfortable. Let your employees work in a way that they can be genuine in their approach.


Now while it is important to avoid a completely scripted culture and to allow your employees some freedom in their approach to achieving a desired outcome, there still must be rules and regulations in place in order to maintain a company or industry standard. Buckingham and Coffman define four “Rules of Thumb” that managers should make sure their employees are abiding by:

  1. “Employees must follow certain required steps for all aspects of their role that deal with accuracy and safety.” Quality control and minimizing risks are essential to having a successful business.
  2. “Employees must follow certain required steps when those steps are part of a company or industry standard.” Standards enhance things such as communication, learning, creativity and development within an industry.
  3. “Required steps are useful only if they do not obscure the desired outcome.” If the ultimate desired outcome is customer satisfaction, you have to allow employees to read various situations and act in appropriate manners. If you force them to stick to specific scripts, then customers lose faith in whether you truly have their best interest at heart.
  4. “Required steps only prevent dissatisfaction. They cannot drive customer satisfaction.” Ultimately, desired outcomes boil down to customer satisfaction. If the customer is happy, they will return for more business and will likely refer other to your business as well. If they are not happy, you won’t hear from them again and your reputation gets tarnished. This is where the earlier point of allowing employees to be genuine in their approach to achieving a desired outcome becomes relevant. Allow them to find a way to connect with the customer. If you want to turn a customer into an advocate, you must meet these four expectations of the customer: accuracy, availability, partnership, and advice.

“What Great Managers Do” (Chapter 2), “The First Key: Select for Talent” (Chapter 3)

In this week’s reflection of “First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently” by Buckingham and Coffman, we are going to dive into the role of a manager and discuss how the great ones are able to select for talent. Buckingham and Coffman believe, and I am in agreement, that great managers are ultimately the glue that holds a business together.


Managers are responsible for getting the most out of their employees. Buckingham and Coffman define managers as those who are responsible for looking inward in order to help a company and its employees find and release talents. They state, “the manager role is to reach inside each employee and release his unique talents into performance. A manager must be able to do four activities extremely well: select a person, set expectations, motivate the person, and develop the person.”


Each person is motivated differently. Skills, knowledge and talents are distinct elements of a person’s performance. Skills and knowledge can be taught, talent cannot. Skills are capabilities that can be transferred from one individual to another, similar to the concept of the traditional instructor-pupil learning model. Knowledge is what you are aware of. Factual knowledge is what you know to be true, and experiential knowledge is what you have grown to understand through life experiences.


Great managers define talent as “a recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied.” You cannot teach talent. Experience, brainpower, and willpower are great qualities, but they are not necessarily talents. Talent is more about what drives a person, how he thinks, and how he builds relationships. There are three fundamental types of talents: striving, thinking, and relating. Striving talents explain the WHY of a person. Thinking talents explain the HOW of a person. Relating talents explain the WHO of a person.


The best way to help an employee cultivate his talents is to find him a role that plays to those talents. Don’t spend time trying to fix their weaknesses, spend time enhancing their strengths. Try to match one’s talent to a role. Don’t waste your time trying to mold someone to fit a specific role out of necessity. Buckingham and Coffman make a great point when they state, “People don’t change that much. Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out. Try to draw out what was left in. That is hard enough.”


I believe that the most empowering feeling for an employee is knowing that he/she is utilizing his/her talents for the betterment of a business and its clients. For me, I have found that sense of empowerment working in the fitness industry. I have realized that I have a genuine passion and motivation for motivating and supporting people along their fitness journey because I understand the value that fitness can bring into one’s life. I feel as though I can empathize and connect with many different people to help them realize that they are capable of more than they think. It makes “work” not feel like work.


So with that, I ask you to reflect on your talents. Do you know what they are? Remember that talents are different from learned skills or knowledge. They are unique traits that you have that cannot be taught. Does the work or job that you are currently doing align with your talents? If not, maybe it’s time to reevaluate your situation and find a way to optimize the unique talents you possess.

“First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently” by Buckingham and Coffman.

Reflection on “The Measuring Stick” (Chapter 1)


I always knew that a company’s culture played an important role in its success, but I never took the time to dive in and try to understand why. At the beginning of chapter 1, the authors immediately stress the importance of finding and keeping top talent in order to maintain competitiveness within an industry. If you think about it, a company is built around providing a product or service. However, that product or service is essentially worthless if there aren’t people to help develop, improve, sell, and implement it. Therefore, it becomes vitally important for companies looking for long-term success to invest in their employees and the experiences those employees have in the workplace.


This book provides 12 items to simply and accurately measure the strength of a workplace. These 12 items are now commonly known as the Q12 and are as follows:


Q01. I know what is expected of me at work.

Q02. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.

Q03. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.

Q04. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.

Q05. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.

Q06. There is someone at work who encourages my development.

Q07. At work, my opinions seem to count.

Q08. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.

Q09. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.

Q10. I have a best friend at work.

Q11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.

Q12. This last year, I have had the opportunities at work to learn and grow.


I wanted to share all 12 items because I think it is important for everyone to reflect upon them no matter their current role (employee, manager, executive, owner, etc.). If the majority, in not all, of these items aren’t being addressed in your current workplace, then things need to change to assure everyone is being challenged, productive, and beyond satisfied with their current situation. When that happens, the potential for success will drastically increase.


I have experienced toxic work environments that drove me to hate what I was doing and ultimately led to career changes. I have also been fortunate to work in environments that made me happy, excited and motivated to show up every day. I had one job I was at for 9 months. Another for four years. I’ll let you all decide which one was the more positive experience. What I can tell you is that in both scenarios my superiors played huge roles in making the experiences what they were. I am looking forward to learning more about what makes a great manager in the chapters to come.