The Six Keys of Successful Managers: Where Gallup fell short

first, break all the rules

One of the best management books I’ve ever read is First, Break All the Rules, What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham and Curt W. Coffman.

The book was based on years of research conducted by the Gallup Organization, which were led by Buckingham, then SVP for Gallup. Their research revealed that,

"the greatest managers in the world seem to have very little in common; they employ vastly different styles and focus on different goals. Yet despite all their differences, these great managers share one common trait: they do not hesitate to break virtually every rule held sacred by conventional wisdom. They do not believe that, with enough training, a person can achieve anything he sets his mind to. They do not try to help people overcome their weaknesses."

These managers excelled at turning each employee's talent into performance, which I have further defined as the ability to consistently achieve results through others in a positive manner. Furthermore, each of these great managers became masters at what Gallup termed, “The Four Keys”:

  1. Select the right person
  2. Clearly define the right outcomes
  3. Motivate the person
  4. Develop the person to be the best they can be

While this was a great start, in my experience, it was still lacking some critical elements. Over the last eight years, with continued research and application, I have revised Gallup’s Four Keys and now offer you:

The Six Keys of Successful Managers:

  1. Understand the science of human behavior and why this is so important in building and leading teams.

In First Break All the Rules, Gallup identified three strengths that create consistent performance and a happy employee. These include:

 1. Specific knowledge of the job

 2. Mastery of the application of that knowledge, which they called “skills.”

 3. Innate talent, which they later defined as “behavioral traits” in their second bestselling book, Now, Discover Your Strengths

now discover your strengths

Therefore, to become a truly great manager, you need to begin with an in-depth understanding of human behavior, which is the foundation for success in all of the other keys.

  1. Build and work as a highly effective team.

A truly effective manager is a team player, and while everyone claims to be one, very few actually understand all of the critical components in how to become one.  

  1. Set clear outcome-based expectations, and then manage to them.

Gallup had this listed as the second key, however, common sense will tell you that in order to select the right person for the role (their #1 key), you first need to clearly define the role and outcomes, so you can match that up to the individual’s abilities to truly know if they are the right person for the role.

  1. Select and ensure that you have the right people in the right roles.

Managers are always telling me how hard it is to find good people, and my response is always “no it’s not--if you know precisely what you’re looking for.” To learn more about how to do this, read our e-book on the Peak Performance Profile.

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  1. Motivate & communicate based on individual needs and styles.

Once again, Gallup had the first part correct in that you need to motivate people based on their individual needs and styles. But in order to do this effectively, you also need to understand that communication is the root of all manager/employee issues. You need to seek out the cause for their de-motivation: too much, too little, inappropriate, etc. Therefore, the foundation for motivation is to understand how to communicate based on individual needs and styles.

  1. Develop employees to be the best they can be.

Gallup's research revealed that the only path in business for people to get what they want e.g., recognition, more compensation, and additional responsibility, etc. is to climb the corporate ladder into management. Therefore, we need to get creative and think out of the box on how to provide options other than management for our employees to obtain these things. 

Example: A client of mine had a VP of their Software Engineering team who was one of the worst managers I’ve ever seen. His strength was that he was a brilliant software architect and developer. Unfortunately, he had also set records on employee turnover, and as you can imagine, his team’s morale was always terrible. The solution: we focused on his strengths and gave him a promotion and a raise: we made him Chief Architect and put him in a nice corner office where he could close the door and not be bothered by all those “pesky” employees, spend his time creating new applications, and solving client problems. We then hired a manager whose key strengths were NOT in software development, but rather in the Six Keys of Successful Managers. Morale instantly improved, and turnover came to a halt.

Buckingham also noted that not everyone is cut out to be a great manager, and that’s OK, as we all need to determine our true strengths and find a role that plays to those strengths. He then resigned his role as SVP because he realized that he did not posses what it took to be a great manager nor did he truly desire to be one.

What do you think it takes to be a great manager?

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