When the management guide “First, Break All the Rules” was first published in 1999, managers embraced it and HR departments rejected it.
Two of the book’s core messages — that a company’s success relies on individual managers’ leadership styles and that employees’ weaknesses should be ignored rather than “fixed” — were the opposite of what the world’s biggest corporations believed at the time, the book’s coauthor Marcus Buckingham told Business Insider.
Buckingham and his coauthor Curt Coffman were Gallup analysts at the time, and they pored over 25 years of Gallup studies of 80,000 managers across 400 companies to determine how the world’s best managers led their teams.
Buckingham said their findings took time to manifest, but were perhaps best implemented for the first time at Facebook in 2008. Its new HR boss Lori Goler used the findings as the foundation for the tech company’s people operations. Goler brought in Buckingham as a consultant, and he has worked closely with Facebook’s leadership team ever since.
These are the fundamental principles Buckingham thinks the best managers follow:
1. It is an individual manager’s responsibility to develop their team’s culture
It’s a myth that companies have a single corporate culture, Buckingham said. Instead, they have several team cultures established by individual managers.
Using Facebook as an example, Buckingham said that employees’ experiences of what it’s like to work at the company will be largely dependent on who they have as a manager — and the company’s leadership knows this.
According to Buckingham, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg “goes to bed at night with one preoccupation, which is: ‘Are our team leaders good enough? Because if they’re not, I don’t care what plans I have, they go awry. I lose people. I lose products.'”
Facebook leaders decided to survey their employees and determine which manager qualities employees thrived under. The best traits of managers turned out to be: They care about their team members, they provide opportunities for growth, they set clear expectations and goals, they give frequent and actionable feedback, they provide helpful resources, they hold their teams accountable for success, and they recognise outstanding work.
“Everything is the local team leader” at Facebook, Buckingham said. “And that’s rare. Many companies think you can do everything from the center.”
2. Employees’ strengths should be fostered, and weaknesses largely ignored
Goler embraces the management philosophy of “one size fits one.”
“If you were to sum up what the best team leaders do on their teams, they individualize,” Buckingham said. “They’re brilliant at figuring out what each person’s got that can be usefully deployed to have the team win, and the best team leaders are really, really good at that. They play chess with their people. They see a knight, a bishop, a rook, a queen, etc., and they capitalise on individual differences.”
HR departments initially pushed back against Buckingham and Coffman’s findings in 1999 because the common practice was to determine a list of talents each employee should have (rather than best practices to follow) and then measure their success on how much progress they made on strengthening their weaknesses. Buckingham believes this resulted in promoting people to their level of incompetency.
“It’s a really counterintuitive idea that your best return on investment as a team leader is to help people to grow their already greatest strengths,” Buckingham said.
But if you ask Facebook’s managers, they will tell you it’s the best way to lead.