What Great Managers Do

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6 March 2016

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For many years studies have been done about the intricacies of the relationship between a manager and an employee. Many managers have posed questions on how to motivate their employees or get the most out of their team. Through studies, observations, and opinions researchers and experts have answered these questions regarding the role the leader can play to gain the most out of their employees. One such researcher is Marcus Buckingham who is the author of “What Great Managers Do”. Marcus Buckingham, a consultant of leadership and management stated he surveyed over 80,000 managers through the Gallup Organization and examined several different managers’ methods, failures and successes of leading others during his research of this topic. (Buckingham 2005)



In Marcus Buckingham’s Harvard Business Review article titled “What Great Managers Do” he discusses what a manager’s role is and what they can do to draw the most out of their employees in order to maximize results. According to the author, a great manager focuses on each employee and notes their individual strengths, in turn utilizing those employee’s strengths in specific capacities on the team to reach success. (Buckingham 2005) Buckingham describes the activity managers do in pinpointing individual’s strengths and using them to the benefit of achieving goals like a game of chess. (Buckingham 2005) I agree with the author’s analogy as although being a manager and leading a team isn’t per say a game, it can be thought of like a chess match. Think about it, in the game of chess, each piece has different purpose; it moves differently than the rest and is individual in nature.

The chess board can represent the working environment as you have to understand how to move the chess pieces or followers in the environment according to each person’s traits. Subsequently, we must think of the opponent in chess, where a manager may have strategized a plan to win or achieve the goal, but then an opponent appears on the board and changes the environment and put a type of block on the well laid out plan at which point, the chess pieces may have to be changed again based upon the best way to win. To me, the analogy of chess relates that a combination of different employee strengths is needed to achieve team goals.


There are several benefits of a manager focusing on each individual’s strengths per Marcus Buckingham. Three benefits I believe are prominent in this article. One benefit discussed is that it does not take as much time to coach the employee. If the manager already has the employee utilizing their strengths in certain tasks, then the manager doesn’t have to train the employee to learn other unfamiliar tasks and the road to achieving the goals are much faster. (Buckingham 2005) Another benefit noted is each person becomes more accountable when their strengths are being capitalized on. (Buckingham 2005) Since the employee is already most likely proficient at the task, the employee can take authority of it and make the result the best it can be. (Buckingham 2005) The employee will already feel a sense of confidence which will empower them to do a top notch job. The third benefit is with each person’s confidence and success at their specific tasks related to their strength will result in a higher bond of the team as each person depends on the other’s strengths to fill each piece of the task. (Buckingham 2005)


Figuring out the strengths of your employees is no easy task. There are several components the author cites as tools to the identification of those strengths. One component is to ask two questions which through their responses will pinpoint strengths and weaknesses of the individual. Although these two questions work best with potential new hires to the organization, they can also be used for existing employees. During a manager’s one on one meeting with employees probing questions can be asked such as “What was the best day at work you’ve had in the past three months” or “What was the worst day you’ve had at work in the past three months”. (Buckingham 2005) Another way for a manager to examine strengths is observation. They should observe employee reactions to occurrences or changes, listen while they are having conversations with their employees, and note what is important to each individual. (Buckingham 2005) Thirdly, the author discusses managers need to understand and notice “triggers” each person has and learn to recognize them. (Buckingham 2005) These triggers can propel the employee to work harder and increase their engagement or the trigger can shut the employee down, decrease their work output and lower morale. Positive triggers for employees can be money, recognition, more autonomy within their job, the praise from their management, being selected to lead a project or initiative, or the display of a complementary letter from a customer. (Buckingham 2005)


According to the article, the author does state that when a person accomplishes the goal, a good manager should not praise their hard work but redirect the success back to their strength. (Buckingham 2005) I disagree with the author’s viewpoint.


Buckingham, Marcus. “What Great Managers Do.” Harvard Business Review (2005): 70-79.

Johnson, Lauren Keller. “Motivating Employees to Go Above and Beyond.” Harvard Management Update, U0608C (2006): 3-4.

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