advice/perspective on jobs, work and management

60 SEC BOOK REVIEW: First, Break All the Rules

In their modern management classic, First, Break All the Rules (1999), contrarians Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman (of The Gallup Organization) openly criticize conventional management thinking.

And rightly so.

Amongst the management maxims they dismiss:

  • Hiring for talent – This alone doesn’t work. Talented people still need a great manager if they’re to reach their full potential (p. 11)
  • Pay as a motivator – Pay isn’t as strong a motivator as most people think. Once their basic needs have been met, employees look to be “compensated” in other, non-monetary ways. This includes being managed well (p. 26)
  • Focusing on weakness – People don’t change much. You’re better off capitalizing on their strengths, as opposed to eliminating any weaknesses, or improving on those things with which they already struggle (p. 57)
  • Managing underperformers – Spend most of your time with your best employees, not your worst (p. 153)
  • Leadership – Although important, leading has very little to do with being a great manager, or getting the best from people (p. 63)


All great insights, to be sure. But perhaps most importantly:

“As a manager, you might think that you have more control, but you don’t. You actually have less control than the people who report to you” (p. 109).

Managers should not see themselves as “the boss,” in other words. Or, as I’m in the habit of saying:

Managers are more effective—and their organizations are more profitable—when they behave as if their employees are in charge of them, not the other way around.


  1. Joyce Spindler

    Thanks for doing the heavy lifting on this book. Feels like a lot of their points may have become conventional wisdom over the years… thoughts? In particular, focusing on the strong performers.

    • the subordinate

      Agreed. Things have progressed considerably in the ~24 years since FBAR was published, in my opinion, including the one you mention. But oh – the places we could (and should) go…

  2. Bill

    I’m saving a link to this to send to a few people who will benefit from it – if they can absorb the message & see it as useful food for thought versus criticism.

    Ps – not a big fan of Marcus Buckingham but I’m sure there are good nuggets of gold inside what seems to have evolved into a tent revival business a la Elmer Gantry.


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