“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.

7 thoughts on “Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out.

  1. While I agree that matching one’s talents with one’s job is important for satisfaction, I think that assuming that these talents are unchanging or unable to be changed is not reflected in reality. As people grow and mature, their talents manifest in different ways and evolve with them. Catering to someone’s talents when they are 25 will look very different than catering to that same person’s talents when he or she is 50. Natural born talents also must be utilized in order to remain strengths. Like anything, if it isn’t used it atrophies. This is another way one’s talents may change over time.

    Finally, I think that we also need challenges and to step out of our comfort zones in order to achieve the highest levels of satisfaction and productivity. There should be times when people are allowed to step away from their talents and strike out into new areas. Always working within one’s comfort zone, where one’s talent lies, leads to stagnation. I think that good managers provide opportunities for this kind of exploration in addition to making sure that their work lines up with their talents.

    • Kim,

      I appreciate your comment and perspective. I agree with you that people can grow, mature, and change through new skills learned and new experiences gained. However, the authors of “First break all the rules” make the case that talent is in fact something that one is born with while skills and knowledge are things that can be learned and developed over time. For example, someone’s inner drive to be the absolute best no matter what at a specific sport, job, etc. is not something that can be taught or transferred from one individual or another. Therefore it is a talent. Learning how to be a better public speaker would be an example of a skill.

      Now in many cases, we don’t know that we possess certain talents until someone (a great manager if you will) is able to recognize and shine light on that talent. So maybe one doesn’t realize they posses a certain talent until they are 30 years of age because they were never put in a position where they needed to use that talent. An example used in the book is a nurse who has the talent to truly empathize with a patient and make them feel safe and comfortable. While there are many good nurses out there who care about and treat their patients well, not all of them have the ability to connect with patients through empathy. And in a study done by Gallup, patients could tell a difference between the two. Where I am ultimately going with this is what if an individual who possesses the talent of empathy were to pursue a career that involved vary minimal human interaction? They may never know that they have that talent if not put in a situation where they could use it.

      I also agree one hundred percent that people need to be challenged and forced out of their comfort zone in order to grow and achieve the highest levels of productivity. That is how I believe you improve skills and knowledge. It may also lead to the discovery of some hidden talents that an individual never knew they possessed.

      To summarize the point I was trying to get across in my post, great managers are able to get the most out of their employees. They do so by challenging them and helping them to develop new skills and gain more knowledge. They also have the ability to recognize talents in their employees so that they can put them in positions to optimize the use of those talents and enhance performance.

      I hope that provides a little more clarity to the post. Again, I appreciate your feedback!

  2. This was a great reflection Zach, and i have to say it was refreshing to see the fundamental responsibilities assigned to managers and employees. Out of the four things a manager must do well, i believe the hardest is usually “choosing a person” unless the manager is responsible for hiring the individual. More often times than not, for a plethora of reasons individuals may be hired for their knowledge and skillset as they are paired with a supervisor. I think the key for most organizations is the ability to pair employees with supervisors who may enhance the employees productivity. I believe most managers tend to favor factual knowledge over experiential knowledge as managers often believe they have more of an understanding of each organizations goal 9and possibly rightly so, as seniority can be a real thing). I read an article from Tedco.org, which i would like to share with you as it stated “Tackling weaknesses isn’t just about helping employees step out of their comfort zone. It’s about helping them fulfill their role successfully.” I once in a while glance at articles that i relate to and this one spoke volumes to me. I used to work at Madam Tussauds Wax Museum and as a “barker” (which is a person who would engage the general public so they would purchase museum tickets) i would be evaluated on my performance. Every team meeting would start with breaking down our “weaknesses” because we had to “sharpen” our pitches. The goal was to be well rounded and appeal to EVERY customer. I believe great managers are able to do that similar to great coaches. Great post nonetheless.

    TEDCO Business Support (Jan. 18, 2019) https://www.tedco.org/news/why-employers-must-focus-on-employee-weaknesses-as-well-as-strengths/

  3. Hi Kim and Zack,
    I think I partially agree that pushing yourself from your comfort zone could unearth a hidden talent on never thought they had. It can also lead to satisfaction and high productivity. However, I would be cautious in advocating for getting out of one’s comfort zone and taking up new challenges. We as humans are all build differently. Some are built mentally and physically to take on all kinds of pressure, whereas some are not. So I think knowing yourself or the individuals is the first key step before they are encouraged or pushed to take up new challenges outside their comfort zone. Some people may succeed outside their comfort zones and others will crush, and may never recover from it.

  4. Zach,
    I enjoyed your post. I really connected with the quote “A manager must be able to do four activities extremely well: select a person, set expectations, motivate the person, and develop the person.” I d thought that I had worked with great managers in my past, but then I met my current supervisor. They embody the qualities that you describe in your post. I have become a better employee because of the motivation, support, and guidance that my manger has provided over the last year. It is actually because of him that I even considered getting my masters. Now here I am in my 3rd course toward a MBA!

    I consider myself to have a good sense of people and can read their personalities pretty quickly when meeting them. I think my best talent is matching team members together for projects. Although, I don’t like tooting my own horn. Discussing myself and my skills makes me a little uncomfortable. It is definitely a skill I need to work on.

  5. Zach,

    Your point about an employee knowing that he/she is utilizing their talents for the betterment of the business and its clients very much resonated with me. Having an “Administrative Associate” title, it’s easy for me to get sucked into my day-to-day tasks and forget about the greater good that my efforts are going towards. For example, myself and our other Admin coordinate a life-long learning group for the elderly population in the area. There is a lot of background logistical work to be done before the weekly sessions that can sometimes cloud us from remembering the good that comes from this particular program. The various stories from members that are new to the area and used the group as a way to make friend, those who lost a spouse and used this program as a means to get themselves out of the house.

    I agree with you and the authors that part of a manager’s role is to motivate their employees, and sometimes that can be as simple as having them step back for a moment to remember the overarching goal behind their work.

    Great post! I look forward to reading more from you.

    Brittany Marshall

  6. Zach,

    I really enjoyed your post, and it certainly made me think at the end. I think more professionals would find more success in their careers if they spent more time and energy focused on what they are good at and how to enhance their strengths vs. wasting time on enhancing their weaknesses.

    A former leader told me that people don’t find sales; sales find people; early on in my career, I often questioned if my talents aligned with the career path that I chose, and upon reflection now, they certainly do.

    True innovative leaders are without a doubt responsible for empowering their employees to personally grow by learning to make the right decisions and motivate them through positive coaching.


    Stokes Warren

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