Book Recommendation: First, Break all the rules

First, break all the rules, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman is a remarkable management book which attempts to prove that standard management practices don’t work, and instead offers new set of rules. This book is a proponent of strengths-based management principle that believes that it is better to focus on strengths of your employees and make them better, instead of focusing on their weaknesses and attempt to ‘fix’ them. For me, when I first read this book, it was an ‘aha!’ moment; and I have been a fan of the book (and the whole strengths-based philosophy). Something that I always believed in, I now had words and frameworks to understand and explain.

The book has been based on survey data from Gallup from thousands of managers. Their analysis brought them to this insight:

People don't change that much.

Don't spend time trying to put in what was left out.

Try to draw out what was left in.

That is hard enough.


Some of the not-so-common insights from the book that I found insightful are as follows:

  1. Don’t spend time trying to improve a deficiency, spend that time instead in improving their strengths
  2. When you find someone deficient in a critical skill, try to pair them up with someone who possesses the skill, and use this team (instead of individuals)
  3. Everyone has the talent to be exceptional at something. The trick is to find that ‘something’, what Marcus calls casting (drawing from actor selection for movies).

A must read for anyone who things they are a good manager. For balance, make sure you also read about criticisms leveled against strengths based leadership (one of them here).

Good boss is hard to get

In this WSJ (India) blog, the writer talks about 4 types of ‘horrible bosses’ and goes on to record the stories of one of their reports in each category:

The Control Freak – ..boss demanded “mandatory hourly updates on anything and everything.” These included things like the number of press releases Ms. Banerjee had emailed and details of follow-up calls subsequently made..

The Bully – ..boss bullied him into doing odd jobs: Depositing school fees for his eight-year-old daughter, purchasing groceries for his household and servicing his car at a workshop, and others. “My boss treated me like his personal butler,”..

The Insecure Boss – (The boss)..started pulling her down in front of seniors and claimed sole credit for her work..

The Pessimist – .. had a negative attitude on everything, which brought down the morale of the entire team. In the boss’ view, most of her team was “always underperforming,” her fellow co-workers were too “whiny,” and her superiors “too demanding,” ..

All of us have our own stories of bosses we (or our friends) have seen and dealt with. When I have analyzed these stories and my personal experiences, I see a few common reasons why a boss behaves in these weird ways:

  • Rookie Manager – This is by far the most common reason. People get promoted to be a boss for someone, even when they have neither displayed any capability to manage, nor have they been trained to be so. In technology companies, it is very common to promote the best technical performer into management position, even though these 2 are orthogonal skills and can result in disastrous situations.
  • Success breeds contempt – When something has worked for you in the past, you tend to think it will work for you now and in future too. Sadly, for management (and for many other positions), it is not the case. For example, managers who micro-manage have seen lots of success with this style, and hence they don’t change the style even when their reports hate it.
  • Poor interpersonal awareness – Not everyone can understand what impact they have on others with their style. So whatever random style they start with, it tends to stay with them.
  • No role model – There aren’t many good managers/leaders to go by. So it is not surprising that many managers haven’t worked with good managers, and so they haven’t been exposed to the value and impact of good management. These people start with a style they think works and then stick with it way longer they need to.

What is your take on why horrible bosses exist in corporate world?


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