Sunday, July 03, 2011

Reducing the Complex to the Comprehensible When Addressing Leadership and Management: Review of "The One Thing you Need to Know" by Marcus Buckingham

Marcus Buckingham is a National Treasure! His writing is clear, concise and laser focused. In a way that differentiates him from the than many writers who pontificate about leadership, he presents a clear picture of the differences between effective management and excellent leadership. In a nutshell, he sees management as inwardly focused on getting the best performance in the present from the current team; he sees leadership as outwardly focused on the future of the entire enterprise.

In his book, "The One Thing You Need to Know - About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success," he offers the most compelling description I ave yet seen of what makes an outstanding coach or manager - teasing maximum performance out of those he or she is charged to motivate:

"In short, the state of mind you should try to create is one where he has a fully realistic assessment of the difficulty of the challenge ahead of him, and at the same time, an unrealistically optimistic belief in his ability to overcome it. The more skilled you are at creating this state of mind in each of your people, the more effective a manager you will be." (Pages 106-7)

I have heard my friend, Dr. Scott Snook of Harvard Business School, use this quotation to great effect in explaining the remarkable success of Coach K in the twin case studies that Snook teaches about the contrasting coaching styles of Coach K and Bobby Knight. IT seems counter-intuitive that a great coach or manager combines hyper-realism with hyper-optimism, but Buckingham and Snook both make an ironclad case that this is, in fact, true in the realms of business, athletics and warfare.

As he wraps up his argument in this powerful book, Buckingham offers a pithy summary of the contrast between managers and leaders:

"To excel as a manager you must never forget that each of your direct reports is unique and that your chief responsibility is not to eradicate this uniqueness, but rather to arrange roles, responsibilities, and expectations so that you can capitalize upon it. The more you perfect this skill, the more effectively you will turn talents into performance.

To excel as a leader requires the opposite skill. You must become adept at calling upon those needs we all share. Our common needs include the need for security, for community, for authority, and for respect, but for you, the leader, the most powerful universal need is our need for clarity. To transform our fear of the unknown into confidence in the future, you must discipline yourself to describe our joint future vividly and precisely. As your skill at this grows, so will our confidence in you." (Page 284)

These examples of Buckingham's insights offer the tip of the iceberg in terms of the wisdom and common sense that he proffers in this book. It provides practical guidance to anyone who aspires to manage well, to lead with integrity or to perform with consistent and sustainable individual excellence.


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