First, Break All the Rules – What the World’s Greatest Managers do Differently

One of the books that has fundamentally inspired the Kudos team is First, Break All the Rules – What the World’s Greatest Managers do Differently [1999, Simon & Schuster], by Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman from the Gallup Organization. The authors conducted an in-depth research study involving +80K managers across NA in various industries, trying to determine how the best managers find, keep and nurture the best talent? They also wanted to formulate a measure for employee satisfaction/engagement – and they began with this question:

“Wouldn’t it be great, if at work at least, we didn’t have to confront our insecurities on a daily basis?”

To answer the question of how to measure the ROI of human capital, the authors set out to discover how great managers attract, focus, engage and win the loyalty of talented employees. Obviously, great managers who excel are able to turn the innate talent of each employee into their best performance via willingness to know their team, and thus individualize work scope to maximum benefit. The best managers show authentic interest in who their people are, because they know that people fundamentally want to be understood. Each and every person is unique. The challenge is finding ways to utilize that uniqueness to its best advantage within your organization.

To begin with, the best managers always aim to hire the best talent they can find, and then they let go and trust them to do the job required. A simple formula to remember: Talent + Trust = Culture of Excellence!

Other key ideas in the book that I found interesting include:


  • The best managers reject conventional wisdom;
  • Great managers learn to accept that you cannot fundamentally change people – but you can facilitate their betterment;
  • Therefore never try to ‘fix’ weaknesses – instead focus on their strengths and talents;
  • Don’t over-promote people to a level of incompetence – but reward them for a job well done at every level;

The best managers are those that build an environment where their team answer positively to these 12 Questions:

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best everyday?
  4. In the past seven days, have I received recognition/praise for doing good work?
  5. Does my manager/supervisor tend to care about me as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work that encourages my professional development?
  7. At work, do my opinions count?
  8. Does the mission/purpose of my organization make me feel my work is important?
  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work as well?
  10. Do I have a best friend at work?
  11. In the last six months, has my manager/supervisor discussed my progress?
  12. This past year at work, have I had the opportunity to learn and grow?

Great managers know engagement ROI is vital, and the Gallup study showed that those companies that reflected positive responses to the 12 Questions profited more, were more productive as business units, retained more employees per year, and satisfied more customers. Note: If a company is bleeding people, its bleeding value.

Without satisfying an employee’s basic needs first, an astute manager can never expect the employee to give stellar performance nor excellence.

These basic needs are:

  1. Knowing what is expected of them at work?
  2. Giving each employee the equipment and support required to do their work right.
  3. Satisfying basic questions of self-worth and self-esteem by giving worthy praise, plus caring about their development as a person.

Encourage employees to take responsibility for their work, then reward achievements according to outcomes reached and supposed – which thrills your talent, and scares ROAD (Retire On Active Duty) warriors.

The best managers don’t try to “script culture” – but they do spend more time with their best people, nurturing talent via constant feedback and recognition;

Managers must keep their promises if they are to nurture and retain trust;

In the final analysis: People tend to leave their immediate managers – not necessarily the organizations they work for.

There are three types of Talents:

  • Striving = Why someone gets out of bed every day?
  • Thinking = How a person thinks/filters the world around them?
  • Relating = Who a person connects/interacts with?

Other intriguing elements from the book:

  • The great manager mantra is: Don’t try to put in what was left out – instead, draw out what was left in;
  • Talent = a recurring pattern of thought, feeling or behaviour that can be productively applied; Excellence is impossible without Talent to be able to produce these recurring patterns of productivity;
  • Every role performed with excellence deserves respect, as every role within an organization has its own nobility;
  • Debatable: Talent is “more important” than experience, intelligence and willpower plus grit?
  • Every person has a “filter” – i.e. a characteristic way of responding to the world;
  • Every person has the talent to be exceptional at something, but its important to discover what is attainable, and what is not as soon as possible. Whereas Skills and Knowledge are more easily attained;
  • Casting is important – if an employee isn’t performing at excellence, maybe they’re not in the right role? It’s then the manager’s job to recognize this, and change it by finding a solution within a supportive environment.


The authors have pulled together a variety of valid research relating to managerial science that might be a +dozen years old, but likely remains relevant today. Most assuredly, their insights and theories remain convincing:

  • Engaged employees stay longer.
  • People leave managers, not companies.
  • It is vital that every person feels a recurring sense of achievement.
  • Individual specialization is the foundation of great teamwork, and great managers create heroes in every role.

We at Kudos remain indebted to their considered thought process and review of what it takes to become the best manager possible, recruiting the best team, then focusing them to remain engaged with the organizational mission, while aiming for excellence on a daily basis. This book is truly inspirational, and we highly recommend it!

Subscribe to Our Newsletter