What Leaders Do Differently

[May 6, 2021]  One of the themes of my leadership blog is that great leaders know when to break the rules.1  Put another way, they do things differently.  What are those “rules” held so sacred by conventional wisdom that they are willing to break?

Leaders have a different vision than ordinary folks, and great leaders know how to communicate the vision, rally people around it, and marshal the resources to accomplish that vision.  A recent book by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman tells us the story of leaders doing precisely what it takes.

Their book, First, Break All the Rules2 1999 (you can get the book at a significant discount), provides insight into how good and great management is done.  What I like about the book is that it gets me to thinking differently.  In itself, getting me to reorient my thinking is worth the price.

Buckingham, Coffman, and Harter tell us more than 40 ways to “break the rules.”  They challenge our perceptions, conventional knowledge, standard approaches to manage people and be happy doing so.  The authors condensed over 20 years of research into this book, and it shows.

Here are a dozen of those “break the rules” paradigms that I liked the best:

  1. People don’t quit their companies; they quit their bosses.
  2. Define the proper outcomes and then let each person find his own route toward those outcomes.
  3. All roles demand accuracy and safety; standardized steps are needed.
  4. Languages, symbols, conventions, and scales are the DNA of civilization. Without the ability to accept standards, we could have never developed such a complex society.
  5. Focus on each person’s strengths and manage around the weaknesses. Don’t try to fix the weaknesses but help that person to become more.
  6. Know the difference between the skills and knowledge and weaknesses.
  7. The time you spend with your best employee (not the weakest) is your most productive time.
  8. No news is never good news.
  9. Great managers envision a company where there are many routes to respect and prestige.
  10. The four keys to great management are: select for talent, define the proper outcomes, focus on strengths, and find the right fit.
  11. In the world, according to great managers, the employee is the star. The manager is the agent.
  12. Great managers are not looking for people who are easy to manage.

I’ll add one of mine that the authors write about as well.  The best leaders a) select for talent (skills can be learned), b) define expectations, c) motivate the person, and d) develop the person through proper care.


  1. https://www.theleadermaker.com/when-to-break-the-rules/
  2. First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently,” also on Kindle, Audiobook, and MP3 CD (2016 edition). I recommend the softcover book.
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I provide one article every day. My writings are influenced by great thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Jung, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Jean Piaget, Erich Neumann, and Jordan Peterson, whose insight and brilliance have gotten millions worldwide to think about improving ourselves. Thank you for reading my blog.

14 thoughts on “What Leaders Do Differently

  1. Eric Coda

    Select the staff for talent (not just for experience, which can be acquired and updated with rapid change in technology). This is often overlooked as a key to success. Most don’t understand the difference between real talent and just plain skills. Learn the difference.

  2. whathteheck

    Management books are everywhere. They espouse a great many theories. Read this one first.

    1. Joe Omerrod

      Your endorsement of this book, whattheheck, will certainly carry some weight. Thanks.

  3. Purse 5

    The authors reach the conclusion that a company that lacks great frontline managers will bleed talent (or, will produce `talented deadwoods’), no matter how attractive the compensation packages are! Why should a highly motivated employee waste his or her time if a weak employee gets the recognition?

  4. Greg Heyman

    Appreciate the recommendation. I respect those who post on Gen. Satterfield’s forum. They aren’t fake actors like so many you find on other sites.

  5. Shawn C. Stolarz

    If you’re a leader, if you work in human resources, or if your company hires managers and you are seeking criteria to hire great managers, you’ll want to read this book.

  6. JT Patterson

    “First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently” is an excellent book, which will help not only the managers, but all other talented employees as well, who have the potential and will eventually become great managers. This book extols the wonders and potential of human resource development in organizations of all sizes.

  7. E.T.

    Thanks Gen. Satterfield for bringing this book to my attention. Frankly, I never heard of it before. I’m sure to like it. I ordered my copy from Thriftbooks. Please give them your business. They are not a “woke” book company like so many of them.

      1. Steve Dade

        I have found them to be very responsive and the books I get, even those not in the best condition, still are good enough for me to read and enjoy. I now avoid Amazon (overpriced). Great prices at Thrift Books.

  8. Yusaf from Texas

    Excellent leadership article. BTW, I went on-line to see what others wrote about this book and they give it many positive reviews. Apparently there is some issue with one of the electronic versions about a link to Gallup polling. With their research from 20 years of study, makes for great background material to see but you cannot, according to a number of those who gave remarks. That should be cleared up. 😊

  9. Valkerie

    Great comments, General Satterfield. I read this book about three years ago. I’d found it in the Atlanta International Airport at a discount. I thought to myself, what the heck, I’ll give it a try. Glad I did. I also recommend the paper edition if you can find it.

    1. Roger Yellowmule

      Thanks for the ‘thumbs up’ on the book. I’m having trouble finding a hard copy. I don’t like electronic editions because you can’t write or make notes in the margins for later reference.

    2. Len Jakosky

      Well said, I also recommend the book. In particular, anything you can find with Marcus Buckingham as the author, you will not be disappointed. I don’t know the other two guys who co-authored the book with him, but I’m sure they know what they are doing.


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