Managers and Leaders: What They Do

Business in Chicago

“What Great Managers Do” by Marcus Buckingham*

“[There] is one quality that sets truly great managers apart from the rest: They discover what is unique about each person and then capitalize on it.  Average managers play checkers, while great manager play chess.  The difference?  In checkers, all the pieces are uniform and move in the same way; they are interchangeable.  You need to plan and coordinate their movements, certainly, but they all move at the same pace, on parallel paths.  in chess, each type of piece moves in a different way, and you can’t play if you don’t know how each piece moves” (p. 39).

  • “Great leaders discover what is universal and capitalize on it.  Their job is to rally people toward a better future.  Leaders can succeed in this only when they cut through differences in race, sex, age, nationality, and personality and, using stories and celebrating heroes, tap into those very few needs we all share.
  • The job of a manager, meanwhile, is to turn a person’s particular talent into performance.  Managers succeed only when they can identify and deploy the differences among people, challenging each employee to excel in his or her own way.  This doesn’t mean a leader can’t be a manager or vice versa.  But to excel at one or both, you must be aware of the very different skills each role requires” (pp. 39, 40).

“The ability to keep tweaking roles to capitalize on the uniqueness of each person is the essence of great management” (p. 41).

“To that end, there are three things you must know about someone to manage her well:  her strengths, the triggers that activate those strengths, and how she learns” (p. 43).

  • “To identify a person’s strengths, first ask, ‘What was the best day at work you’ve had in the past three months?’  Find out what the person was doing and why he enjoyed it so much.  Remember: A strength is not merely something you’re good at.  In fact, it might be something you aren’t good at yet.  It might be just a predilection, something you find so intrinsically satisfying that you look forward to doing it again and again and getting better at it over time [i.e., a talent theme]” (p. 43).  “To identify a person’s weaknesses, just invert the question: ‘What was the worst day you’ve had at work in the past three months?’ (p. 43).
  • “A person’s strengths aren’t always on display.  Sometimes they require precise triggering to turn them on…..The most powerful trigger by far is recognition, not money….Given how much personal attention it requires, tailoring praise to fit the person is mostly a manager’s responsibility” (p. 45).
  • “Although there are many learning styles, a careful review of adult learning theory reveals that three styles predominate” (p. 46).
    • “First, there is analyzing….The best way to teach an analyzer is to give her ample time in the classroom.  Role-play with her.  Do postmortem exercises with her.  Break her performance down into its component parts so she can carefully build it back up.  Always allow her time to prepare….[Don’t] expect to teach her much by throwing her into a new situation and telling her to wing it” (p. 46).
    • “The opposite is true for the second dominant learning style, doing.  While the most powerful learning moments for the analyzer occur prior to performance, the doer’s most powerful moments occur during the performance….So rather than role-play…pick a specific task…give…a brief overview of the outcome you want, and get out of [the] way” (p. 46).
    • “Finally, there is watching…Watchers learn a great deal when they are given the chance to see the total performance.  Studying the individual parts of a task is about as meaningful for them as studying the individual pixels of a digital photograph….If you are trying to teach a watcher, by far the most effective technique is to get her out of the classroom.  Take her away from the manuals, and make her ride shotgun with one of your most experienced performers” (p. 46).