Thursday, June 28, 2012

Break All the Rules

In their ground-breaking book, First Break All the Rules, authors from The Gallup Organization report the findings from their extensive research on what strong vibrant workplaces look like and what the world’s greatest managers do to find, focus, and keep talented employees.  Interestingly, they found that most managers follow incorrect assumptions about management, including:

*All behaviors can be learned

*The “best in role” all get there the same way

*Weakness-fixing leads to success
Gallup says that managers must break these so-called “rules” if they are going to be great.  These beliefs are pervasive.  Think about how many times you have been told, or you told someone else something like:  “If you try hard enough, you can do it” or “If you want it badly enough, you can do it” or “If you dream it, you can achieve it.”  Instead of these incorrect assumptions, Gallup suggests that great managers need to adopt the following assumptions:

*Some behaviors can be learned

*The “best in role” get the same outcomes using different behaviors

*Weakness-fixing prevents failure, while strength-building leads to success.  (This does not mean that “weaknesses” can be ignored)

The Gallup approach advocates the identification and deployment of each individual’s natural talents as the way for that person to achieve maximum performance.  Instead of obsessing over every weakness that a person may have, we need to provide them with opportunities to grow, develop, and perform in the arenas where they have natural talent.

With this in mind, imagine how things might have turned out for the great golfer Tiger Woods, if someone had obsessed over some of his possible weaknesses.  Imagine his junior high school physical education teacher fretting over his grade book and calling young Tiger into his office:  “Tiger, I have been looking over your grades on our different activities here in phys ed class.  And son, let me tell you, you have that golfing thing down perfectly.  However, I am a little concerned about your swimming.  You certainly swim well enough not to drown, but I would like to see some improvement there.  So, let’s take you off the golf course three days per week and give you extra swimming lessons.  I am sure that in time you will be as good a swimmer as you are a golfer.”

Fictional story?  Yes.  For all I know, Tiger Woods was and is a fabulous swimmer.  But is this not what we do to people in our performance reviews and development plans?  Does the Tiger in my example need to learn how to swim better?  Maybe -- if he wants to.  But his golf talent is going to soar if his teacher lets him out on the golf course as much as he wants to go.

So, while we cannot ignore weaknesses and we need to make sure they do not let us fail -- or drown, for example -- it is focusing on our natural talents that leads to high performance.  And when individuals perform in a superior fashion, so do their organizations.

Next blog we’ll look at what four things Gallup research tells us that Great Managers do. 

For more ideas on how you can lead breakthroughs in your organization, follow this blog and check out my web site at   You will find free resources you can download, including a Breakthrough Strategy Workbook that you can download at no cost.  You can also check out my book, Mission Impact:  Breakthrough Strategies for Nonprofits, and buy it if you are interested.  And you can follow Sheehan Nonprofit Consulting on Facebook.

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