Book Review: Breaking Rules Heartily Recommended


Note: as part of Throwback Thursday, I’m posting this piece I wrote January 6, 2011, for my LiveJournal blog. I am planning to slowly move over anything of substance from LiveJournal to this one, with plans on turning the LiveJournal into something else.

First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, by Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman. Published 1999 by Simon & Schuster. 271 pages, ISBN 0-684-85286-1. Buy at

When I first opened this book and saw that it was published in 1999, I almost immediately turned around and returned it to the library. Business has changed so much in the past 12 years, surely this book would be outdated.

I’m very glad I decided to give it a try. “Great managers are revolutionaries,” the introduction says, and the book goes on to show exactly how. Buckingham and Coffman are quick to state that this is not going to be a cut and dried lining up of a standardization of tasks and duties to perform, but rather a way to make the most out of what you’re already doing as a manager. And while a lot of it was stuff I inherently knew as an employee, the fact is I have yet to really see in action. In fact, I’m halfway tempted to buy a couple of copies and send them anonymously to a couple of my ex-managers.

“I think people want to feel understood,” says one of the managers in the book, and that’s the crux of good management. The two authors, with the help of the Gallup Organization, compiled an analysis of great managers and came up with 12 questions that would measure the strength of a workplace. And many of these are boiled down to how employees are treated by their immediate manager. Great managers are constantly flouting conventional wisdom on how to treat their employees, recognizing, “that each person is motivated differently, that each person has his own way of thinking and his own style of relating to others. They know that there is a limit to how much remolding they can do to someone.”

Great managers look inward, Buckingham and Coffman write, and figure out how to work with an employee’s talents rather than try to fix what is wrong. This means that knowing what talents you need in each role is vital. You need to “define the right outcome and then let each person find his own route toward those outcomes.”

“[E]ach person is motivated differently, that each person has his own way of thinking and his own style of relating to others.”

Time and again, the authors show how great managers go against the grain in how to interact with employees, with examples from real managers backing up the suggestions. Not only does it go into how to select the right people, but how to best get the most out of each person once selected. “You succeed by finding ways to capitalize on who you are, not by trying to fix who you aren’t,” Buckingham and Coffman write.

As I was taking my notes for the book, I also found it a good guide to figuring out myself. There were plenty of things that helped me finally come up with an honest answer to some of the harder questions I’ve faced in interviews.

Even though this was written in 1999, the suggestions are even more relevant in today’s world of rising unemployment and outsourcing, as customer service will inevitably cause a feedback loop that will make businesses realize they need good employees. I definitely plan on buying it, and if you are in a management role, even if it’s unofficial (I bought it as I manage volunteers via KC Stage Magazine), it’s definitely worth a read.

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