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“What Great Managers Do” by Marcus Buckingham


In “What Great Managers Do”, Marcus Buckingham writes about how managers attain success in their organizations by working with what they have and how employee weaknesses can be turned into strengths, and how managers can save their time and company resources by not only adapting their working habits to their valuable employees but also the training techniques that the organization implements in accordance to the nature of their employees (Buckingham, 2005). The gist of the article is that a successful manager does not waste time in the altogether rectification and eradication of the weaknesses of his employees or their ambiguous working habits, but one who builds on them.

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Main Body

To start with, Marcus Buckingham has written the article as a derivation from his book, “The one thing you need to know about great managing, great leading, and sustained individual success”. For his book, which has in turn influenced this article, Buckingham singled out not only the most outstanding of businessmen and women but also the characteristics that distinguished them from the rest of the people interviewed and included in the many study surveys that he performed during his tenure at the Gallup Organization.

As he introduces us to the research study behind his book and the adaption of this article from it, Buckingham highlights that he could not fail to notice the presence of the commonality of a unique difference amongst the managers he found to be the most successful. In his article, it is this commonality that Buckingham believes and describes to be the central trait that successful managers absorb and exercise. Buckingham affectionately refers to that trait as the “one thing” and elaborates upon how managers can acquire it and then utilize it to the maximum advantage by complimenting it with three strategies that he states and elaborates upon in the body of his article.

Buckingham’s Opinion of a successful manager

Buckingham believes that it is the nature and extent of the understanding of the situation and the application of a solution to a problem that allows the “one thing” to be exercised. It is his opinion that the solution should be one that can be exercised upon a variety of problems to achieve a productive working mechanism in the organization. Once the reader has gone through the article, there is a lingering sense of contradiction generated by this particular opinion, generated from the fact that midway through the article, Buckingham becomes very specific about the solutions that can be implemented to solve problems.

In Buckingham’s opinion, a good manager implements decisions and solutions that allow the manager to not only take advantage of a hidden opportunity but also allows the manager to recognize elements of the problem that can be brought in to use to attain further productivity along the way. Buckingham highlights here that it is not merely growth in progress that sets a manager apart, but an exponential degree of the growth of progress that truly makes a manager successful. Buckingham stresses the fact that in every opportunity or potentially productive scenario, the factors that can provide an element of productivity should be separated clearly from ones that can provide multiple elements of productivity. He affirms that a good manager makes full use of an employee’s strengths weaknesses. While pointing out the significance of the agility of the active and agile attitude that a manager should adopt regarding taking observations of his employees in action, Buckingham highlights that it is not just the apparent strengths that are to be appreciated, but also the strengths that have not been realized as yet and show occasional signs of their presence.

Further on Buckingham mentions that an analysis of the weaknesses and strengths of an employee should not be entirely based upon observations made at a distance since variables may cause the observations to be obscured the manager should interact directly with the employee and ask questions that are based on employee feedback but which indirectly allow the manager to excerpt the weaknesses and strengths of the employee from his answers.

Defining Weakness in Buckingham’s outlook

An element of Buckingham’s article, “What Great Managers Do” needs to be pointed out at this point where Buckingham chooses to be very specific about the definitions of strengths and weaknesses of employees. Buckingham does not regard a deficiency in the ability to execute a task as a weakness, but the nature of the task that forces the employee to exert the most and which the employee finds undesirable to be the weakness of an employee.

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Buckingham believes that employees should be trained to analyze every situation, opportunity, or challenge that they are faced with in highly realistic terms, however, the analysis of the ability of the employee of how well his self can cope with the scenario at hand can be somewhat beyond realistic terms. Many analysts believe that taking responsibility for an avenue where an employee is not well versed to the maximum extent can yield beneficial results for the organization as well as the individual employee (Musselwhite, 2007). Further on, Buckingham presents some approaches that can be used to eradicate any weakness encountered.

Overcoming Employee Weaknesses in Buckingham’s opinion

To gain a better idea of the relevance of the article, an analysis shall now be made of how in Buckingham’s opinion, an employee’s weaknesses can be dealt with and countered to derive a result from the apparent weakness.

As we move on with the article, we see that Buckingham considers the detection of a weakness in an employee to be an opportunity to refresh the working characteristics of an employee and at times, the working mechanism of the division of the organization where the employee is functioning.

Buckingham suggests that the first measure that a good manager must take is that of training the employee in that discipline of work. The motivation is already present for the manager to build upon, or an attempt would not have been made to accomplish the task in the first place (Herzberg, 2003). Now the manager has to identify which part of the exercise of accomplishing the task the employee is failing to perform and train the employee in the relevant part. Buckingham however, seems to have left out the factor of the cost of training and the nature of the task. Therefore, this solution can be applied only to small or medium scale businesses where a loss of capital does not leave the organization or a division of the organization upon its knees.

A very interesting approach that Buckingham presents as a second option in case the training should fail to yield results is an option that is widely appreciated amongst modern-day managers. This option is widely used. Also, the method allows managers to deal with employees who are more assertive than is required (Robin, 2004). Buckingham believes that by assigning a collaborator to the failing and quite possibly disgruntled employee, matters can be brought into control. However, Buckingham does stress upon the knowledge level of the collaborator and nature of the collaboration to be of vital significance when exercising this approach.

Further on, Buckingham suggests the incorporation of discipline and the rearranging of the immediate surroundings of the troubled employee as the third and the fourth alternatives to tackling an employee’s weakness. However, relying on discipline when instinct has failed to achieve results seems to be a lost bet since the inability of an employee to make use of instinct questions the employee’s capability to function effectively in itself and very few managers would practically choose to keep the same employee assigned to that particular task, rather they would choose to reassign it to another employee.

Critical Analysis of the core text and subject matter

If a critical analysis of the text was to be taken, Buckingham’s perspective of the traits and strategies a successful leader should incorporate do follow a logical pattern but seem to be influenced by a romantic bent of mind at the same time. However, even though it cannot be ignored that the very core of the article is to observe the factors that make an exceptional event truly extraordinary and then incorporating it into the infrastructure, yet the probability of everyday managers being capable of exercising exceptional traits in their management seems bleak.

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Buckingham’s text is organized and clear, however, to base a complete article upon a handful of cases seems to be a case of overestimation regarding the subject matter, particularly one in which high risks of time and capital are involved. Moreover, in the service industry, there is seldom a margin for the repetition of mistakes. This fact leaves Buckingham’s approach somewhat impractical for the everyday manager.

It is important to point out here that the article is a success in the fact that it leads the reader to consider the possibility of the application of many of the larger scaled solutions that Buckingham provides. Although one has to admit that Buckingham has done an excellent job of rooting out the problems for which he has recommended them.


In his article, “What Great Managers Do”, Markus Buckingham has tried to bring to mind the fact, that sometimes even very hardworking and valuable managers come across as inefficient, but most of the time it is not because they are lazy and time-wasting losers, it is because they do not know how to merge their interest and enthusiastic approach to their jobs.


Marcus Buckingham. (2005). What Great Managers do. 2009. Web. 

Herzberg, Frederick. (2003). One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?. 2009. Web.

Musselwhite, Chris. (2007). Self Awareness and the Effective Leader. Web.

Robin, Daniel. (2004). Collaborative Workplace Advantage. 2009. Web. 

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