Marcus Buckingham aimed in 2005 to boil countless professional insights down to one piece of advice for managers, leaders, and individual contributors. His best-selling book, “
The One Thing You Need to Know: …About Great Managing
, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success,” pulled this off, and it holds up remarkably well.
For managers, Buckingham says the most important thing is to
discover what is unique about each person, and capitalise on it.
Why? Buckingham believes the ultimate goal of a manager is to figure out each individual employee’s talents, and turn those talents into performance. Leveraging an employee’s strengths can reap much better outcomes than attempting to better their weak spots, he says, which produces only small improvements. What’s more, it makes the employee responsible for honing their unique skills, and it’s better for the team to have each person working their best angles, so that they rely on and respect each other.
How? Learn their strengths and weaknesses, what motivates them, and their unique styles of learning, be it by watching, doing or analysing. While observing them can be a useful strategy, an even more straightforward approach is asking them simple questions, like: What were the best and worst work days you’ve had in the past three months, and what were you doing? Who was your best manager, and what made the relationship work so well?
Meeting this primary goal typically involves following some basic principles:
1. Hire good people. Spend enough time on this step to thoroughly vet candidates and get the right person for the job, Buckingham says. Managers can identify talent and fit, he notes, by first defining what they’re looking for. In the interview, he suggests asking open-ended questions like “what do you enjoy most about the job?” to hear spontaneous answers, and requesting specific examples of how they’ve done things in the past.
2. Set clear expectations, often. Buckingham says good managers don’t set once-a-year goals. Instead, they constantly revise and reinforce expectations, and meet with employees four to five times a year to talk about progress, offer feedback, and course correct.
3. Offer praise and recognition. “Recognise excellence immediately, and praise it,” Buckingham writes. “Praise isn’t merely a reaction to a great performance; it is a cause of it.” He strongly advises against withholding praise for an employee’s good work just because you don’t want it to go to their head. If performance is high, there’s no such thing as too much praise, he says. On the other hand, only offer it if warranted, since insincere praise is easy to sniff out.
4. Show your people you care about them. According to the research, there’s a clear link between caring and productivity, Buckingham says, to the point that workers who feel cared for by managers are less likely to miss work, have accidents, steal or quit. How do you do it? Essentially, the same way anyone shows kindness: Listen, tell them you care, keep their confidences, and learn about their lives, he says.
Ultimately, great managers make their employees’ success a primary goal, Buckingham says, and derive personal satisfaction from watching them grow.
“Success, whether as a manager, a leader, or an individual performer, does not come to those who aspire to well-roundedness, breadth, and balance,” Buckingham writes. “Success comes most readily to those who reject balance, who instead pursue strategies that are intentionally imbalanced.”
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