A Summary and Review of The Book, First, Break All The Rules, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman

This summary and review of the book, First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, was prepared by Michael P. Bishop while a Business Management student in the College of Business at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana.

Executive Summary

Every day, business professionals walk into their offices, laboratories, or onto a playing field to do a job they are hired to perform.  These professionals, whether male or female, all walk in with one personal reason or another that drives them to show up and put forth the level of effort they are comfortable providing.   These jobs seek to utilize someone’s personal abilities to benefit a company.  Whether a person is grinning and bearing it every day, or actually finding satisfaction in their role, one thing is certain, companies expect employees to do work.  In the process of doing their work, each individual will have to deal with a leader or manager that may believe these employees can perform to their full potential.  First, Break All the Rules focuses on how “Great” managers or leaders might use a selective approach to hiring the right talent for a job, motivating each person to do his/her best, and treating every employee as an individual that needs guidance of some kind.

Based on 20+ years of information gathering (having interviewed 80,000 managers from 400 different companies dealing in all aspects of business) the Gallup Organization found there are many differences in how, why, or what “Great” managers may do differently to reach new heights in their fields of business.  The findings show that the general ideologies of the business world sometimes are less effective than most may believe.  The truth is, effective business leaders don’t always use conventional methods and leadership styles.  The results also show that the “out of the box” thinking of some managers is what keeps them thriving with talented individuals sticking around to work with them.

The realization of what sets workers and managers apart from peers of lesser “Greatness” can be an unimaginable find.  The research shows that while conventional wisdom teaches professionals that there is a right and wrong way of doing business, in truth, there is no conventional method to effective leadership or management.  The narrow minded thinking managers are taught in schools and training leads them to believe that there are certain things they have to do to be great.  It leads them to believe that greatness is achieved through rigorous learning and growing.  The conventional way of thinking is that if you want to succeed, you have to walk the path of the Great men that walked the path before you.  First, Break All the Rules dispels this myth and brings to light the idea that if a leader or manager truly wants to excel in his field, he must be willing to make his own path and have others join in on the journey.  It is the manager’s job to be sure he hires employees that are fit for the position, and in for the long run, thus growing the business.

A manager can make or break a company’s workforce.  Immediate managers and supervisors directly affect an employee’s attitude, motivation, and dedication to a job.  Because of this, a manager must know when, where, why, and how she can utilize a hidden or apparent talent of an employee to drive a business forward, all the while keeping that employee in good spirits and interested in continuing on.

First, Break All the Rules sheds a light on what any individual that truly believes he/she is destined for greatness must think about in order to keep themselves moving forward, as well as driving the business’s goals.  Based off of years of studies and years of sorting through questionnaires to find links between great managers, the authors were able to come to a few unwavering truths:  great leaders are not always great managers; great managers are not always great leaders; and talented employees are not a dime a dozen.  The findings showed that when a company finds great talent, they must do what it takes to keep that talent.  The first line of defense to losing a great employee is having him working for a leader or manager that he can bear.

By reading the book and taking some of the suggestions to heart, one may learn what years of research have come to show, business professionals from all walks of life will find out something new about themselves that they may have never thought about before.  By reflecting on one’s own past performances and traits of business, managers, leaders, and those who believe they would like to someday be a manager or leader, may find areas needing improvement within themselves.  They may also learn what it takes to draw talent that fits the roles needed to keep their organizations growing.  And after finding the talent they seek, they may have a better idea on how to keep that talent.

The Ten Things Managers Need to Know from First, Break All The Rules

1. Managers ARE the difference makers.  Managers are the key factor in whether an employee feels comfortable within his job.  If a great employee is mismanaged, the probability of losing that individual rises greatly.  A great employee will leave a self-gratifying position if her feelings of management are poor.  To keep talent a business must have strong leaders and managers that are able to see the different needs of each employee and be able to use that information to satisfy the needs of the employee as well as keep them focused on the job at hand.

2. No two people are alike.  Everyone thinks and reacts to situations in their own ways.  Race, gender, and ages have very little to do with how a person feels in given situations, or how they may react when asked the same questions as everyone else.  Everyone judges their lives and accomplishments on their own scale of living. Each scale is different in terms of what is important to each individual.

3. No two work environments are the same because no work groups are exactly the same.  Even in big box businesses things are not the same.  Every inch of different stores throughout a company may be built to exacting standards, and every employee may be given the same training and tools to do their job, yet because of different forces of nature at work, no two stores will run the same or equal one another in revenues and customer satisfactions.  The people make the difference.  

4. Through extensive studies, the Gallup Organization was able to determine that there are 12 core elements that are needed to “attract, focus, and keep the most talented employees.  All managers or personnel involved in hiring, training, or mentoring and leading, should know these 12 core elements.  The research showed that once an employee feels completely engaged in his work, he will continue said work until the time comes he feels he may no longer be able to do it, or someone else intervenes and alters his path to his “Greatness” by discouraging him and forcing him to move on, or encouraging him to move up.

5. Managers can work on employee retention by learning what it takes to keep a good employee motivated and engaged in her work environment.  To do that, the employee must be able to feel as though her work matters.  She must believe that: she knows what is expected of her at work; she has the materials and equipment necessary to perform her duties; she has the opportunity to do what she does best every day; her supervisor, or someone at work genuinely cares about her as a person, not just as a working body filling a job position; and at work, her opinions must count for something.
Each employee must feel that they are serving a purpose and that they do matter to the team or that person will never truly be engaged in the work.

6. Managers need to know that following conventional wisdom can be a detriment. In order to manage well, a leader must know his people.  He must play favorites, and not treat everyone the same.  A manager needs to understand that fixing someone’s weaknesses is nearly impossible, and that some things people have limited capabilities.
A manager also needs to understand that he cannot treat everyone the way he wants to be treated, because he is not on the same level.  He should be treated different, as well as everyone else should, as they are all individuals with different personalities and ways of living.

7. Money isn’t everything, but true talent and greatness deserves to be recognized.  If an employee is more valuable to a company, he SHOULD make more money than someone that is simply average.  It would be a much more productive world if employees pay were based on the performance as a whole.  The idea is that if top performers were to make slightly more than others, then others would work harder in hopes of becoming the top performer.

8. Talent in one position does not always translate well to a higher position.  Just because a person is one of the greatest at the level he is at, doesn’t mean that same person would be a fitting candidate to move up standing and lead others in that task.  Some people are not natural leaders, and when hoisted into a higher position, they may fall on their faces due to the lack of the skills needed to be a leader.  Spotting leadership talent is not an easy task that someone can be picked out simply due to the fact that they excelled in a lower position.

9. Sometimes managers just have to know when to cut ties.  It is okay to build friendships among ranks, but when it comes to handling business, personal feelings should be left aside.  A manager can be a great friend, but cannot let that friendship stand in the way of the business succeeding if a friend is holding the team back.  A manager should have a way of reminding employees that they should not mistake kindness for weakness, and that any mistakes or lack of trying will be dealt with according to guidelines of the business.  Those dealings can range from simple verbal warnings to termination, and whether or not the people involved are friends or not should not be a factor.

10. Managers must realize that any trait or commonality listed that does not fit his style of management, does not mean that he cannot succeed in the business world.  There is no “perfect” way to manage any given situation.  Many different methods may work in their own ways.  The point is to recognize one’s individual style, and how that style can affect the business and its people.  The research only points out that there are many common traits in business that seem to do better.  Because of different styles of management and the fact that each management style works with different employees that are a part of different organization, no management style is wrong.  They are all in some way, slightly different.  While this was an immense study of an extremely large number of managers from many different business worlds, one must understand that unconventional wisdom can be wrong at times.  Out of the box thinking does not mean breaking all the ethical grounds of business.  Rather, to be a great manager, one must know how they can circumvent common practices and still succeed.

Full Summary of First, Break All The Rules


The Gallup Organization, a research group interested in finding out what it takes for businesses and employees to be successful, spent 25 years researching and compiling data in two of the most massive in-depth studies of their kind.  Gallup did this with the hopes of digging deeper into what makes a business strong.  Not only were they searching for answers to what makes a company strong to begin with, but what does it take to build on those strengths and watch the business flourish in the future.  After years of data were accumulated, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman sat down to seek out any hidden meaning they could find from the responses that were given.  Once they compiled all the information together and tested their findings, they went on to write the book, First, Break All the Rules.

First, Break All the Rules’ introduction reveals that the Gallup Organization interviewed over 80,000 managers from over 400 businesses.  The managers ranged from front end supervisors to top CEO’s.   The individuals interviewed came from many demographics: race, gender, age, and education level.  Gallup polled over one million employees of various companies to coincide with the interviews of the managers.  The research was based on the principles of two questions they hoped would lead managers to more clearly understand about the importance talented employees and well respected managers in business.  Throughout the book these two questions build the grounds for many others that are reiterated in various chapters.

The first question the writers wanted to answer was, “What do the most talented employees need from their workplace?”  Asking this question, stemmed many other questions such as, what does it take to keep a top notch employee engaged in his work and giving his very best as long as possible?  What is it that employees search for that will keep them from thinking they need to look for a new job?

The writers then wanted to figure out, “How do the world’s greatest managers find, focus, and keep talented employees?  They didn’t only want to highlight what could be done to attract talent, but seek to give managers an idea of what can be done to make those employees remain satisfied in their position.  Buckingham and Coffman set out to answer those questions and show managers that there is a way to handle their best talent in a manner that will keep a team thriving for as long as they may need it to.  The book gives a voice to over one million and eighty thousand managers and employees, and explains what distinctive ideas can be used to sustain a successful working environment.

The end of the introduction gives a better understanding of what one of the thousands of hour and a half long interviews was like in reality.  The excerpt from the interview shows us that not only do managers look at questions differently, but they may value different aspects of every situation and employee.  The manager, known to the audience as Michael, explained that there are many attributes of the people he considered to be his greatest team members from the past.  They all needed a manager that treated them as individuals. They all needed to be handled in ways that reflected on their own styles of learning.

Chapter 1: The Measuring Stick

The first chapter opens by telling an ancient story of a fleet of British ships lost at sea and the correlation of how similar it is to some of the dramas unfolding in the modern business world.  The story leads into the realization that some of the greatest minds have fought for centuries to figure out the best way to measure aspects of business that are associated with the journeys of life and career.  The writers tie the story into the real questions of this chapter that plague the business world even today.  What does success look like? How does one measure success? What, if anything in particular, does it take to be successful and continue it as a trend?

To survive in the business world today, a company’s managers and employees must have an idea (way of measuring) of whether or not the positions they fill are in reality the best suited for their needs. These measurements can let a person know if a particular position is where he should be, or if changes need to be made somehow to build a more competitive, self-gratifying professional standing and environment.  To be content with a job is not enough to fuel an individual to be as productive as possible.

The chapter also introduces the 12 questions Buckingham and Coffman believe to be the most important questions that can be asked of employees in a workplace.  The belief is that these 12 questions are the keys to telling a business whether or not it is functioning in a manner that is conducive to greatness. The questions selected are the core elements of the information a company needs to gauge whether an employee is satisfied with his work environment, or dissatisfied to the point he considers leaving.

The questions are as follows and as we find in later in the chapter, set in a particular order for a reason:

  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 every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
  8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do I have a best friend at work?
  11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
  12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

The questions listed above become the focus of the remainder of the chapter where the authors break down just how crucial the answers are.

The chapter goes on to explain why many of the questions listed incorporate extremes such as “best” in question 3, or focusing in on the “I” in many others.  The findings included results that, the businesses that had more of their employees answer with positive accolades tended to have higher production rates and profitability margins.  It also shows a link between higher performing employees that are satisfied with their roles in a company and the relationship they have with their direct supervisor.  Those that lacked great supervision were more likely to respond with lower levels of satisfaction.  This is where the truth became more relevant that an employee’s direct supervisor or manager played a vital role in overall satisfaction and job performance.   By taking care of those that drive the company and meeting their personal needs; managers are able to see higher standards of production being reached.

In the last section of the chapter, there is a metaphorical look at how the 12 questions can be broken down and their purpose understood a little better.  The audience is asked to think about the questions as mountain climbers.  Each of the questions can be categorized into phases of an expedition that lead to the top of a mountain.  Each section includes questions that are the basis for the next section of questions, and so on until all of the questions are answered.  In the end it is revealed why succeeding on the mountain takes more than accomplishing all the goals of one level.  One has to be able to keep satisfying the same needs of lower levels as he climbs and conquers the more narrowed questions at the top of the mountain.  As managers, one of the lessons chapter one teaches is that a manager has to be able to keep in mind that the first 6 questions are most important when trying to build a strong core value in the workplace.

Chapter 2: The Wisdom of Great Managers

The beginning of Chapter 2 gives insight into the question, “Whom did Gallup interview?”  It is told that Gallup approached corporations and requested permission to speak with their greatest managers.  Gallup wanted the company to decide who they felt represented the organization’s ideals best and provided the best team results through their leadership.  In some cases it was found companies had a hard time deciding who it was they would consider the best of the best.  Gallup intervened by giving these companies questions to think about while trying to decide who their top performers were.  Sometimes it was as simple as answering one question.  If the company could clone just one manager, which one would it be?

After being provided managers to interview, the writings began asking what it is these managers felt was necessary for a work unit to succeed.  Most managers agreed that to be a strong manager, conventional wisdom was not the way to go.  They felt a manager had to “Break all the rules” and use a different sense of reasoning than most might believe.  This is where the research showed that some managers believe they need to treat everyone different, people stay true to their nature, no one has unlimited potential, focus should be on strengths not weaknesses, and playing favorites is a necessary evil.

Also in this chapter, information is given on what the four basic roles of a management are and how a manager plays the catalyst role in the workplace.  There is a realization that leaders and managers are different.  The fact of the matter is that good managers aren’t necessarily good leaders, and vice versa.  The research shows that as the catalyst, the focuses should be on how to select a person for their relevant talents (setting expectations up front), motivating the employees, and developing workers. These four topics are the main ideas in the following chapters and are considered the “Four Keys” to unlocking worker potential.

Chapter 3:  The First Key: Select for Talent

This chapter concentrates on what a manager can look for when selecting the talent necessary to fill an open position of a company.  The idea is introduced that every job calls for a certain unique talent.  The section is headlined by, what can be considered talent?  Managers are advised on how to dig into an applicant’s resume beforehand and seek out what a person’s talents are through open-ended questions in the interview process.  Advice is offered on how a manager can be assured she is hiring the correct person for the open position.  The advice also points out why talent is more important than experience, willpower, or smarts (book smarts or street smarts).

The research inherently shows that although people can be trained to react in specific ways when in a controlled environment.  Those actions may not be a true indicators of how someone may react in the face of an actual pressure situation.  The section describes how someone’s an inner drive may lead them to act differently under certain pressures and how those reactions cannot be forced out at will.  Because of this reality, managers have to look beyond conventional answers to gauge true talent under pressure.  A manager has to be able to discern from different traits (skills, knowledge, or talents) to get a true picture of an individual’s inner personality and see if he has the skills needed to handle any oncoming stressors.

The authors move into a key factor in deciding how to weigh a person’s talents accordingly, to figure out if they can be the person to fill a specific role.  To find out what talents are needed, conventional wisdom points toward looking at the worst performers and trying not to hire those types in the future.  The book however, disagrees with that philosophy.  The research points out that a manager should study the best employees and try to find out what trait they possess.  This will show what they should look for, rather than pointing out what they should try to avoid.  By selecting for the strengths (or talents) of an individual a manager has a better opportunity of finding the right candidate to help a team excel.  John Wooden (legendary coach of the UCLA Bruins) is quoted on his ideas on the importance of talent and utilizing what is available.

Chapter 4:  The Second Key: Define the Right Outcomes

At this point in the book, managers should begin to see they must have an idea of what goals they seek to accomplish if they want to move forward with building a team.  With an array of different personalities working together, it is necessary to keep everyone focused on the mission at hand.  By laying out the goals of a unit, employees are given the answer to question 1 from chapter 1.

Managers have to understand that different people may take different paths to reach a finish. The quickest path from point A to point B for one individual may not be the same as the path of another.  Because of this, knowing the outcome desired in the end will help an employee plan the path of least resistance that suits him the best. The saying, “Work smarter not harder”, comes to mind at this point.  By not micromanaging every step in between, great managers are able to allow employees the freedoms they need to take the path they feel more comfortable on to meet the set goals.  This empowerment can be beneficial in that it gives each worker a sense of ownership, knowing that their opinion counts and they have a say so in how things operate (Question #7).

The chapter touches on why a manager cannot try to dictate exacting measures at all times.  A manager should not expect every employee to be a clone of them self.  Because everyone thinks, acts, and moves differently, a leader should not assume that everyone can do the work exactly the way he believes it should be done.  Managers have to avoid the temptations that they can find the perfect person to fit every role.  They also must realize that they cannot assign just anyone to a duty thinking that anyone will be capable of doing the job because it is an easy task.  Every job requires a unique talent of some sort, so being different will work best in some situation.

Some jobs do require exacting measures, so the talent needed to perform that job may be more specific.  A great manager must know how to gauge the talent necessary to follow the steps so that he can find the right person for the job.  Sometimes there is little opportunity for challenging the preferred method. Understanding for instance is a talent that may be necessary in a job function.  A person must be able to see why certain steps are crucial to a task to truly buy into the idea that there should be no alternate paths taken.  Not everyone uses the same reasoning for understanding, thus this becomes a necessary talent.

Continuing on, the book leads into dealing with customers.  It explains there are many different levels of customer concerns, and how each concern has an abundance of ways in which it can be handled.  Different talents of dealing with people become necessary for workers in a service industry of any sort where she is in constant contact with new customers.  While she may never be fully prepared for every situation that can be thrown at her, with the right talent, she can be ready to react and maintain her bearing.

The chapter is wrapped up reminding managers to think about what a customer is paying for.  By looking deeper into customer concerns, managers can find what value added pieces of the puzzle can be established as relevant.  The customer is ultimately the one that makes the decision on what is valuable and what is not, so the manager must pay attention to that.  While a customer’s expectation and overall satisfaction is the key.  The manager does however have to assure that processes used are in line with the company’s current strategy.  Managers have to be able to see the impact of decisions from both sides of the business.  Finding people that work to satisfy the needs of the business from both sides, internally and externally becomes key.

Chapter 5: The Third Key: Focus On Strengths

In Chapter 5, the reader is returned to the idea that a great manager does not focus on the weakness of her people, rather she hones in her employee’s strengths.  To build a great team, a manager should be able to identify her worker’s strengths and weaknesses. After learning about her people, she should try to find a position where the employee’s strengths can be utilized to the highest level of contribution.  It is also explained that a manager should not merely forget a person’s weaknesses; rather she should look for ways to manage around them.  A manager should not waste her time trying to bring something out of a person that is not there according to the book, but try to develop what has been available all along.

The chapter also brings into perspective why a manager should not live by the golden rule.  Once in charge of a group of people, a manager must assume the role of boss, but it does not mean he cannot be a friend, too.  Treating everyone the same is not the way to go according to the book.  The manager must be able to treat people differently in order to allow them to be themselves, which will make it easier for the manager to cater to each employee’s personality respectively.

We learn that managers should play favorites.  It is discussed why a great manager would spend time with her more productive employees building on greatness, rather than dwelling on other’s weaknesses.  The section reiterates why it is better to learn from the best and know what traits to look for in the future instead of hiring someone based on traits that should be avoided.  Once a manager narrows down what talents work best, the weaknesses to avoid become more apparent and are easier to disqualify.  Another lesson portrayed is that the idea teaches managers to not only lead the best, but continue to question what might help them build on their successes.  By knowing what shortcomings are present in the best employees, a manager is able to look for a remedy to a small problem before it becomes a major speed bump and help that employee stay engaged.

The chapter raps up by identifying the differences between a nontalent and a weakness. Talents are defined as behaviors which constantly resurface.  These reoccurring behaviors can be seen as talents when successful and nontalents when they lead to failures.  Nontalents, however, are not always weaknesses.  If they are left alone, over time they may become a weakness.  This is why it is important to know someone’s talents and nontalents. By knowing what a person’s nontalents are, a manager and employee can attempt to work around situations that may cause a missing talent to become a problem, and eventually be deemed a weakness.  The lesson becomes, with proper consideration and support, a nontalent can remain a nonfactor in a person’s career if that nontalent can be worked around in daily activities on the job.

Chapter 6: The Fourth Key: Find the Right Fit

In the sixth chapter of the book, Buckingham and Coffman shed light on the last of the four keys necessary to building a strong business environment with capable, talented employees that fit the roles they play.  In order to be successful, managers have to be able to see that everyone has a limit of how much they can grow.  In other words, some people may excel in a lower level position, but their talent in that position may never translate to higher levels, thus making it a bad decision to push them up the corporate ladder to a point of failure.  Although conventional wisdom breeds the idea that people should always be striving to learn and move up in a company, unconventional wisdom begs to differ.  Unconventional wisdom recognizes that there is a position in the ranks that is best suited for every individual, and that position does not necessarily have to be a top level job.  Some people’s talents are best suited in the mix of the so-called lower level employees or lower level management.

Based on the concept that some people aren’t meant to continuously move up the ladder, the subject of compensation is brought into question.  How does one feel they are progressing if they aren’t being moved up the ladder?  Should every employee on a particular level be paid at the same rate?  Should moving into a higher level position be the only way to draw a larger salary?  These questions and many more like them become the new topics of discussion.  While some of the techniques used to show great talent that their work is appreciated and respected won’t work in all companies, if a person is truly valued and a manager can find a means of showing that appreciation, it will go a long way in keeping the talent happy.  Broadbanding and level of achievement pay plans can be considered as ways to reward greatness without pushing for promotions

Following the questions of how to compensate greatness, the chapter begins to question how to lead someone into greatness.  The authors recommend using planned evaluation periods to help an employee work toward capitalizing on his talents.  They believe this help an employee continue to move forward as well as control the flow of business.  Evaluation periods can build a strong report between manager and employee because the manager is able to consistently show that the employee’s hard work is recognized and appreciated and that the employee’s future well-being is a concern. By spending one hour per quarter with employees, alone in a meeting, managers are able to build a relationship on a more personal level. Taking time to show concern for not only the company’s concerns, but the employee’s career can lead to a lasting relationship.

What happens when the concerns of an employee’s unresponsiveness to training and leadership or unwillingness to overcome obstacles, becomes an issue?  Unfortunately this will happen in business at some point.  A manager must be able to let go of personal feelings when the time comes and do what is right for the company by terminating the employment of anyone that is found to be left lacking the talents necessary to help build a strong company.

Chapter 7: Turning the Keys: A Practical Guide

Chapter seven reflects on everything that is discussed throughout the book and reiterates that the recommendations given are merely concepts to think about.  It reminds managers that they have to manage using their own style.  The keys provided are only suggestions on ways to use unconventional thinking to deal with different events.  The chapter also issues more suggestions to building a talented environment.  It gives both managers and employees something to think about that may help to create a stronger foundation for their futures.  The final chapter ties together all the ideas that great businesses require great managers, which require talented employees, and it takes all levels doing their best work at all times for a company to succeed.

Gathering Force, Appendices, and Acknowledgements

The final sections of the book explain what the driving forces were behind the extensive research.  It breaks down how the research was performed, some of the questions that were asked of the over 80,000 managers, and how they sorted through all of the information to narrow it down to their presented findings.  The authors also acknowledge those that contributed their ideas and time to helping sort through the information and helped to present the findings in a manner everyone could relate to.  The Appendices give insights into how they narrowed the questions down to the twelve questions of most importance.  They give insight into different talents managers can look for.  The appendices also shows more in depth responses to the questions asked of manager, much like the short section in the introduction.  All the research points are tied together in the end to give the audience full understanding of where the information included in the chapters come from.

The Video Lounge


The video I have chosen is a short simple clip of one of the writers (Marcus Buckingham) introducing one of the concepts of the book.  Mr. Buckingham leads off by capturing the audience’s attention and getting them involved.  He then moves on to giving the audience a short introduction about the topic he will be speaking on.  The topic he raises question about is whether parents should focus on the negatives or the positives when it comes to their child’s grades in school.  It becomes clear that Mr. Buckingham will be discussing the findings from his research that as superiors, the focus should be on building off of the positives rather than dwelling on the negatives.

Personal Insights

     With business conditions the way they are today, what the author wrote is surely relevant.  With an ever changing business environment and employees being told that they are the driving force of a company, credit also need be attributed to an employee having the right leadership.  While great employees are contributing to the growth of a company, great managers have to guide those individuals, and figure out what they can do to satisfy the needs of those workers so as not to lose them.
Due to the state our economy is currently in, the philosophy of managers to keep the best happy is a growing trend.  It is my opinion that organizations and the leaders within can learn from the writings in this book and see that great employees are one of the greatest assets they can have.  By finding individuals that can thrive in a company, it puts the business in a great position for growth, thus making a talented employee a necessity.

  • If I were the author of the book, I would have done these three things differently:

1. The author continuously leads into a topic that he strays from, but informs the reader that he will get back to it in later chapters.  By doing this, I found my mind wandered constantly while trying to remember what it was I was going to get the full story on later, or trying to look back on to recall what was previously discussed.   I would have preferred for the writer to give me the whole story and then go into topics that were based off of the lesson it was teaching.  

2. Near the middle of the book, the authors’ words seem to lose their “oomph” and I found myself getting bored.  The stories that made the lessons interesting ceased for almost an entire chapter, and left me questioning what they were trying to lead in to.  I think by jumping back and forth from one concept to another, I began to mix up some of the ideas and found myself needing a refresher to remember where the story from previous chapters had left off at to lead into the new sections.

3. In Appendix D, at the end of the book, we finally discover what criteria lead the study to narrowing down the Twelve Questions.  I believe that finding out how they chose the twelve questions as most important may have fared well to be put closer to the beginning.  We learn what the questions represent, and what the different answers may mean, but we are left in the dark on why these questions were deemed the most important, until the end of the reading.  

  • Reading this book made me think differently about the topic in these ways:

1. I’ve always looked at business as a step-ladder.  I’ve had my mind set on the idea that I would always need to do my best to improve my weaknesses to improve my worth so that I have every opportunity possible to move up in a business.  I never thought of building more on my strengths and focusing mainly on them to get me ahead. The concept that a person’s weakness will only hold him back to a point is something I will look at differently now, knowing that it’s the strengths of an individual that are the only importance.

2. I’ve always felt that going against the grain was frowned upon.  Treating people differently is human nature for me as a leader, but I always looked at that as a flaw of mine.  I thought I was being considered as non-PC by my peers for not treating everyone the same.  Now I know I was on the right track to greatness by just being myself and leading the way I felt best leading.

3.          Hiring for talent rather than simply based on qualifications is a new concept for me.  I’ve always looked at hiring as being a simple win-lose situation, sometimes you win and hire just the right person, and sometimes you lose and a person only lasts a short period of time.  I never really considered the idea that as a manager, I could look for certain traits that would give me a better idea as to how well an individual might really fit in with the organization and concepts of whatever team was already there.

  • I’ll apply what I’ve learned in this book in my career by:

1. I’ll apply what I’ve learned in this book in my career by reflecting on my own past performances during my years as a manager.  By reflecting on my past actions I could figure out my talents and non-talents. I now have a better understanding of what I might do differently in the future.  I realize that I have to strengthen my management style and cater it to the needs of the employees more than expecting them to accept my style and to live with it.  I now better understand why some of the negatives I dealt with in the past occurred.

2. I’ll apply what I’ve learned in this book in my career by keeping in mind the twelve questions that measure the core elements needed to attract, focus, and keep the most talented employees.  I will bear in mind that these questions are constant, and as a manager one can be graded by the answers to these questions at any given time.  An employee needing to be able to answer the twelve questions positively is an ongoing task, not something that can be attained and then forgotten about.

3. I’ll apply what I’ve learned in this book in my career by keeping aware that everyone has limited potential.  I’ve always thought the same as many, that with a little extra effort and will power, anything was possible.  The book’s lessons have taught me to understand that just because someone has a great talent for the position that they hold, this doesn’t mean they need to be pushed to move up to the next position.

  • Here is a sampling of what others have said about the book and its author:

From Barnes & Noble
Many business books begin by articulating a set of all-encompassing rules that the reader is expected to internalize in order to become successful in his or her profession. Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman take a radically different approach in this bestselling guide to improving managerial performance. Instead of having us squeeze ourselves into prefabricated roles, the authors encourage us to develop individual styles based on our own innate talents and competencies — and they back up their recommendations with data gathered during the course of more than 80,000 interviews with managers in almost every conceivable industry. What are some of the rules they encourage people to break? One of the most controversial is the time-honored notion that all people should be treated equally, a mandate that perhaps arises from the belief that parents shouldn’t show special favor to some of their children. Instead, Buckingham and Coffman encourage leaders to devote attention to those employees who are truly talented and committed to moving the business forward. The authors don’t advocate sacrificing discipline or training, but they do offer innovative ways to reconceptualize the work we do while increasing the pleasure we get from the doing of it.

Sep 15, 2008
Jenni rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Just about everyone
Recommended to Jenni by: Sean Jacobs
Shelves: recommended

Wow — this book is fantastic!

My favorite thing about this book is that it is researched-based. Gallup did extensive surveys of the most successful managers across mutiple disciplines. So, it’s not just another book written from the perspective of one person who had success — it’s the culmination of commonalities of success across fields. Brilliant! The result is a modern, logical way to manage staff.

This book put into words what I could not. I am utilizing the managerial philosophy described in this book every day! I’m looking forward to reading the follow-up book.

I recommend this book to anyone in a leadership role.


First, Break All the Rules should be mandatory reading for all managers in your company. Pick up a copy today.-Joe Rawlinson

Exceptional book!

by doctorevii2001 on January 14, 2010
I seldom take the time to write a review of a book or any product for that matter, however I truly think this book is deserving of that honor.

It is a great book for anyone in, or looking to get into managing. It makes a case for psychological management, but through the use of stats and numbers, thus capturing the often numbers minded attention of managers.

As well as pointing out what GREAT managers do differently from the mediocre or poor managers of the world, it gives tips on traps that many managers fall into.

I would highly, highly recommend this book. I’ve see the tools provided in this book used, and the results are wonderful. I’ve also seen the tools not used, and the traps fallen into, and they are disastrous.

Do yourself a favor and pick up this book. You won’t be sorry.

The reviews of First, Break All the Rules tend to have one continuing opinion; every manager would benefit from reading this book.  I for one would agree with the majority.  My likelihood to recommend, as well as many others, is very high. Because of the extensive research involved in the 25 years of research we can feel comfortable that the authors didn’t just write by opinion.  They did their homework on this book, and came up with very solid evidence to back up their findings.

Amazon.com- 332 reviews, Overall Rating: 4 ½ stars out of 5
BarnesandNoble.com- 44 reviews, Overall Rating: 4 ½ stars out of 5
Alibris.com- 4 reviews, Overall Rating: 5 stars out of 5
The numbers alone speak volumes on how real people receive the overall message of the book.  Negative reviews were extremely hard to come by.  And, when I did find one, the basis of the negativity was not necessarily on a dissatisfaction of the book.


BarnesandNoble. (1997-2013). Retrieved March 09, 2013, from www.BN.com: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/first-break-all-the-rules-marcus-buckingham/1102717280?ean=9780684852867&itm=1&

Amazon. (2013). Retrieved March 09, 2013, from www.amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/First-Break-All-The-Rules/dp/0743510119

Barnesandnoble.com. (2013). Retrieved March 10, 2013, from www.BN.com: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/first-break-all-the-rules-marcus-buckingham/1102717280

Alibris.com. (n.d.). Retrieved March 10, 2013, from www.alibris.com: http://www.alibris.com/booksearch?qwork=23370036#reviews

Coffman, M. B. (1999). First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster.

doctorevii2001. (2011). Alibris. Retrieved March 09, 2013, from www.alibris.com: http://www.alibris.com/community/review/10925313/Exceptional-book%21

Jenni. (2013). Goodreads.com. Retrieved March 09, 2013, from www.goodreads.com: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/50937.First_Break_All_The_Rules

RAVE reviews. (n.d.). Retrieved March 09, 2013, from www.ravespeakers.com: http://www.ravespeakers.com/speakers/buckingham

Rawlinson, J. (2006, 09 18). Returncustomer.com. Retrieved March 08, 2013, from www.returncustomer.com: http://www.returncustomer.com/2006/09/18/book-review-first-break-all-the-rules/


Contact Info: To contact the author of this article, “A Summary and Review of the Book, First, Break All The Rules, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman,” please email Michael.bishop@selu.edu.    


About the Publisher

David C. Wyld (dwyld@selu.edu) is the Robert Maurin Professor of Management at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. He is a management consultant, researcher/writer, and executive educator. He also serves as the Director of the Reverse Auction Research Center (http://reverseauctionresearch.com/), a hub of research and news in the expanding world of competitive bidding. His blog, Career News 24/7, can be viewed at http://wyld-about-careers.blogspot.com/.

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