WCU Book Review

William Casey Asbill-Beck

Entrepreneurial Innovation 601

Creativity-Innovation Book Review of “First, Break all the Rules”


About the Book

Title: “First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers do Differently.”

Author: Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman.

Length: 271 pages.

Publisher: Simon and Schuster.

Price: $20 (hardback).

Reading Time: 6.5 hours.

Reading Rating: 4 (1=very difficult, 5=very easy).

Overall Rating: 4.5 (1=average, 5=outstanding).

Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman’s “First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently” is the product of two research studies conducted by the Gallup Organization over the past twenty-five years.

The first research study focused on finding “what the most talented employees need from their workplace?” During the research process The Gallup Organization developed twelve core questions in order to measure the strength of a workplace and obtain the most information and the most important information in a simple and accurate way. More than one million employees from different companies, industries and countries were interviewed resulting in a powerful discovery that “talented employees need great managers.” This discovery lead to a second study that explored how the world’s greatest managers find, focus, and keep talented employees. The culmination of these projects resulted in debunking myths and exposing pit-falls of conventional management methods, increasing employee satisfaction, and finding out what great managers do.

“What great managers do,” according to the Gallup Organization’s research is “select a person, set expectations, motivate the person and develop the person.” These are the four activities a manager must fulfill in order to accomplish their role well. Buckingham and Coffman go on to explain how managers can accomplish these activities by following the “Four Keys.” The Four Keys of great managers examine selecting a person based on Talent, setting expectations with defined right outcomes, motivation focused on an individual’s strengths, and developing helping and that individual find the right fit.”

“Selecting for talent is the manager’s first and most important responsibility” states the Gallup Organization and they organize talent into three catagories. The first is “striving talents.” These explain why a person is motivated. The second, “thinking talents,” focus on how a person makes decisions. Last are “relation talents” and this explores relationship building. All this is organized in order to help recognize the difference between skills, knowledge, and talent.

“Define the right outcomes and then let each person find his own route toward those outcomes.” In defining what is the right outcome, the book suggest asking first, what is right for your customer, then what is right for your company, and finally what is right for the individual. Great managers know when to trust their employees and use unconventional forms of thinking while also recognizing that certain required steps, dealing with safety, industry standards and desired outcomes, can often serve as a foundation for exceptional performance.

Conventional managers may focus on fixing an employee’s weaknesses and therefore created group dynamics based on things not done rather than things done correctly. Great managers must position an individual according to their strength, treat people they way they need to be treated, and invest time in and reward the best employees. “Success comes from finding ways to capitalize on who and individual is, not by trying to fix who they are not.”

All this, ultimately leads to finding the right fit for the employee. Wether the right fit involves promotions, demotions, and the creation of a new positions or trust, respect, and tough love, great managers must learn to recognize teachable moments and how to competently use all the tools in their managerial tool box.

Getting the job done is always the main goal of managers. How the job gets done is up to debate. Sometimes managers roles are over-defined and they must be bosses instead of inspirational leaders and coaches. Companies may decide to focus on “behavioral competencies” instead of productivity, institutionalized positions of power with one rung leading to another instead of finding a proper fit, or using standardized methods instead of thinking outside the box, but, the Gallup Organization’s research shows managers can play a more critical role in engaging employees and that directly correlates to better business unit outcomes and savings.

“No manager can make and employee productive.” Great managers must lead by example, reflect on their experiences, and perfect their own skills, knowledge, and talents.


Buckingham, Marcus, and Curt Coffman. First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. New York, NY.: Simon & Schuster, 1999.


  1. William,
    Great book review. I like the concept. Managers make important decisions based on talent, drive, and need to communicate goals , while motivating their crew. I like a manager that has “been there”. One who knows what it is like in the trenches.
    I think we cottle society too much these days. If a manager picks a person because of talent, that manager can be called “unfair”. I believe in competition; I would think small business would want the most talented vs. a trophy kid”. owners
    You tell me…I am not a small business owner like my professional friends at “meanwhile back in Saluda”.
    Great read William. Thanks for focusing on the 4 keys of management.

  2. William,

    Great book review, I’ve often been told that a great manager is one that always sets up their employees for success and judging from what you’ve written here I think that’s probably a fair statement. I have had the joy of working in management before and I know that some people just aren’t cut out to work the front counter, it’s not in their personality so common sense says to find something that they are good at an enjoy. Set them up to succeed not for failure, I’ve seen and been the victim of managers that try and push employees into a mold of what they think is the absolute ideal employee, and it doesn’t work well.

    Thanks for giving us a glimpse into this study and the 4 keys of management,

  3. Angie Ritter says


    This sounds like a very interesting book which puts forth some groundbreaking ideas…that really shouldn’t be quite so groundbreaking. Just because someone is considered the “boss” doesn’t mean that he/she is a manager. All too often, it’s quite the opposite. Managers cultivate and develop their employees and, by doing so, serve the best interest of the employee, the business and themselves. Talent management can quite literally make or break a business because, after all, companies are not truly made of buildings or stocks and bonds…companies are made up of people. Without the right people in the right place at the right time – and managers who are intuitive enough to make this happen – businesses cannot be successful.



  4. Casey,

    Thank you for refreshing my memory of a book read many years ago. A mentor always stressed the importance of attracting and developing the best talent possible. In the book The art of Innovation by Tom Kelley, hiring the right people regardless of background is stressed as part of the company success.

    There are so many management and leadership books on the market that often times the best practices seem clouded by personal philosophies. Highlighting the number of surveys completed, I believe, adds so much more value to the “Four Keys” as you reiterate them.

    The book suggests “asking first, what is right for your customer” seems contrary to some conventional wisdom. Yet, when further evaluated, this may infect be exactly what every business should focus on and it is the responsibility of management to deliver that message clearly to their employees.

    Thanks for distilling your efforts into a concise and understandable representation of your book.


  5. Hi William,

    Great book review! It really hit home for me. Working for a very large corporation I see all these different traits in managers, the good and the bad. Motivating and developing employees should be more of a priority. I feel like companies focus on hitting the sales numbers and making sure tasks are done by the due date, these are obviously very important for any companies success, but it just comes down to the numbers and not the development of the employee in a lot of circumstances. All four of the keys mentioned are essential for the success of any manager. The book I reviewed “All Customers Are Irrational” by William J. Cusick focused on connecting with your customers on an emotional level and how important it was to retain customers. As I was reading my book and just now as I was reading your review, it made me think about employees need to be connected with on an emotional level, just as its important to retain customers, it’s also very important to retain valuable employees.

    Talk with you soon!

  6. William,

    I enjoyed reading your book review. You gave me a lot of insight into a manager’s role in a business. I agree with Angie, this concept should be common sense but usually the simplest, most logical way is never used. I believe, the more the managers know about the employees would assist them in placing the right people in the right positions. Communication plays a big part when dealing with a group of people. If managers lay out the end result that they want accomplished, usually people will get it done in their own way.

    – Candace

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