The One Thing You Need to Know: ... About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success

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9780743261654: The One Thing You Need to Know: ... About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success

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.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

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 actively seek out experiences that will enable you to acquire a broad range of expertise, so that you have something to fall back on when one expertise become obsolete? Should you stick with a role that doesn't suit you, thereby proving to your superiors that you are a good soldier, willing to play any role for the benefit of the team? Should you imagine that your career has distinct stages and that the filter used in the early stages should be replaced with new ones as your career progresses? Or does it all depend on what kind of career you have chosen, or even what kind of personality you have?

In chapters 5, 6, and 7, we come to grips with these questions and reveal the one insight you must never forget as you strive for sustained individual success.

A lifetime of "why"s

"What drove this book?"

Before we get started, a word about myself. We're going to be in each other's company for the next few hours (days? plane rides?), so you should probably know whom you're dealing with. Although in one sense I owe the impetus for this book to my conversation with Carrie Tolstedt, in another sense, it was almost inevitable that at some point in my life I would sit down to write this book.

I always found the movie City Slickers a little disappointing. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy it -- the story of three stuck-in-a-rut New Yorkers heading out to a dude ranch in the American West to learn about life and friendship and loyalty is charming, and Billy Crystal, the lead, is as hysterical as ever. No, what always bothered me about the movie was that it teases the viewer and then fails to deliver on its tease. About thirty minutes into the movie, Billy's character is trying to engage the ranch's trail boss, played by Jack Palance as a stone-faced loner, in a debate about the meaning of life. Disdainful of Billy's frenetic city-boy prattle, Palance's character, Curly, turns in the saddle to face him and holds up one finger.

"I'll tell you the secret to life. This one thing. Just this one thing. You stick to that and everything else don't mean s -- -- ."

"What's the one thing?" Billy's character asks.

"That's what you've got to figure out," Curly replies.

Since this answer didn't satisfy me, I sat through the entire movie in the hope of learning what the one thing really was. It wasn't a good sign when Curly died about an hour in, but still I stuck with it, confident that a sentimental Hollywood film would never set me up so blatantly and then fail to follow through on the punch line. But it did. At the end of the movie, when Billy and his two chums are standing on the mountain top, pondering their recent daring, their life lessons learned, and Curly, the philosopher-trail boss, Billy announces that he now sees clearly the path ahead of him.

"Why?" asks one chum.

"Because I know what he meant."

"Who?"

"Curly." Billy holds up one finger. "I know what he meant by this."

"What?"

Billy then proceeds to say exactly what Curly had said an hour earlier: "That's what you've got to figure out."

"I'm gonna deck you," says his friend.

Well, my thought exactly.

"That's what you've got to figure out." What kind of an answer is that? I was holding out for something deep and meaningful and, above all, short, some pithy little phrase that I could quote around the water cooler the next day, something like Bogart's line in Casablanca, "The problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world," or Laurence Fishburne's in The Matrix, "Welcome to the desert of real" (said very slowly). I would even have settled for something akin to Ali MacGraw's "Love means never having to say you're sorry." But no, all City Slickers could give me was "That's what you've got to figure out."

I suppose I have only myself to blame for expecting a summer blockbuster to deliver some deep truth, but, to be honest, I have always been attracted to the notion that beneath complex phenomena such as loyalty, or productivity, or career success, or even happy marriage, you can discover a core concept. And that armed with this core concept, you can focus your attention, see the causes more clearly, and so waste less time, be precise, make accurate predictions, and act with precision to make these predictions come true. The very idea that these core concepts exist, and can be discovered, is thrilling to me.

Many of my most vivid memories stem from the discovery of a core concept that, all by itself, served to clarify something that, a moment before, had seemed unfathomably, ineffably complex.

I remember sitting in chapel one morning -- all good English public-school boys started their day in chapel -- and hearing 1 Corinthians 13:13 for the first time: "And now faith, hope, and love, abide these three; and the greatest of these is love."

I didn't fully understand its import then, and perhaps I still don't, but I can recall being terribly excited that Saint Paul had done the analysis and concluded that, while all three were great, love was the greatest.

Since then my pantheon of certifiably cool concepts has grown. Some were deemed cool simply because they applied to me personally. From the time I was about three until just after my twelfth birthday I was cursed with a terrible stammer. Along with being hugely embarrassing, it was also, on the days when I was feeling rational enough to ponder it, intellectually perplexing. Why did I stammer? Why couldn't I say my name without drawing it out into a mess of staccato consonants and bizarrely elongated...

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