“The One Thing You Need to Know” by Marcus Buckingham

Marcus-Buckingham Ariel Felice  |   4 MINS READ December 23, 2020

Marcus Buckingham has an interesting approach to the old discussion of what is management and what is leadership. In a book with plain language and an abundance of examples and “success stories” (some of which I found boring), he makes some points that I found very useful.

He separated the book into two major parts, the first one dealing with organizational success and the second one related to individual success. In my opinion, the first part was more addictive and touched directly on the issue of leadership. The first part (“Sustained organizational success”) contained a description of the author’s view on great management and great leadership and explained to the reader “the one thing they need to know” about each of them.

The one thing you need to know: Great Managing

Discover what is unique about each person and capitalize on it.  

I liked this concept. The essence of it is that great managers do not try to change their employees to adapt to their required tasks, but rather they focus on each individual’s strengths and place those employees where they could maximize their contribution. The author’s analogy was that great managers play “chess” (several different pieces with different moves each), not “checkers” (where all the pieces move the same way). This clearly puts a lot of pressure on the selection process, but also in the process of assigning people to roles.

The author did then provide a “recipe” to be a great manager:

1.       Select good people
2.       Define clear expectations
3.       Praise and recognize the right behaviors
4.       Show care for your people

Finally, he made an interesting point: “Do not get lost in the infinite complexity of your employees” (we are all very complex and different human beings), but simplify that analysis and look at three levers of uniqueness. Those levers are:

1.       Identify the individual strengths and weaknesses
2.       Identify their triggers
3.       Identify their style of learning
a.       Analyzing
b.       Doing
c.       Watching
The one thing you need to know: Great Leading

In an interesting twist, Mr. Buckingham defined that the one thing you need to know about great leading is somewhat the opposite to that of great managing:

Discover what is universal and capitalize on it.

The point is, great leaders, focus on those points that we all have in common. Yes, we are still infinitely complex human beings and great managers should identify what key levers a person has to be successful. But, still, there are things that all human beings have in common and leaders should “speak” to those universal aspects in a way to get people to follow him/her. Those universal aspects were categorized as the “five fears and five needs”:

Five fears, five needs, one focus:

1.       Fear of death – The need for security
2.       Fear of the outsider – the need for community
3.       Fear of the future – the need for clarity
4.       Fear of chaos – the need for authority
5.       Fear of insignificance – the need for respect
 The point is that we all have those fears and needs, so great leaders capitalize on those, for instance, they provide security (as president Bush attempted to focus on, with debatable success), they provide a clear vision of the future (Martin Luther King's vision, for instance), they provide the meaning of community (or nationalism, as it is often used in my native country Argentina, for good or bad purposes) and provide authority where chaos takes over (we would need somebody like that in Argentina, where respect for the law has not been enforced from the highest levels of government).
The author also identified some common patterns he saw in great leaders:
Disciplines of leadership

1.       Take time to reflect: I found this one interesting. Most of the examples showed that leaders take time to spend on their own and reflect. I relate to this concept although it is something counterintuitive in a business world where you should be (or appear to be) busy and active all the time.
2.       Select your heroes with great care
3.       Practice

Ariel Felice 

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