Nine Lies about Work by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall – My Six Lessons and Takeaways (and, a little disagreement)

There are books that I disagree with because they are shallow, illogical, shoddy…  These are books with inadequate thoughts from inadequate authors.

No, I won’t name any of these.  But, yes, I’ve read a few; or, at least portions of them.  Thankfully, with the advent of Kindle sample pages, a reader can make an evaluation without buying the whole book.  And, if you want to tell me that it is unfair to make a judgment without reading the full book, ok…but in many/most cases, one can tell with just the sample pages.

And then there are books that I disagree with – at least partly – that represent the perfect kind of book to disagree with.  These books are not shallow.  They are thoughtful, well-thought through, well-researched, well-argued.  You have to ponder the conclusions in these books, and ask yourself…is this something that I agree with?  Let me think about this.

Nine Lies about WorkI love reading these books. Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall is one such bookl  This is a very good book.  One worth your time.  I commend it.

But I don’t fully agree with it.  And, that’s ok, isn’t it?

I presented my synopsis of this book last Friday at the May First Friday Book Synopsis.  Here are some of the highlights from my synopsis handout:

  • What is the point? — Don’t accept the “common wisdom.” Chances are the common wisdom is wrong. …And, maybe the single most important key to business success is…build really good teams.
    • Why is this book worth our time?
    • #1 – We do not know what to measure.  This book will help us with that.
    • #2 – We focus on the wrong things toward self-improvement, and others-improvement.  This book will help us with that.
    • #3 – We evaluate others, and seek engagement, using the wrong tools  This book will help us with these challenges also.
      • Here are some quotes and excerpts from the book – the “best of” Randy’s highlighted passages (I left one key one in bold):

Global worker engagement is weak… And economists, in seeking to explain the global decline in productivity growth since the mid-seventies, have suggested that “the technological advances and management strategies that worked to propel productivity in the past have been fully implemented and are no longer contributing to productivity.
In other words, whatever our current practices may be, they are no longer giving us much lift.
When you’re next looking to join a company, don’t bother asking if it has a great culture—no one can tell you that in any real way. Instead, ask what it does to build great teams.
The defining characteristic of our reality today is its ephemerality—the speed of change.
Everywhere we look we see this speed of change. When you put your plan together in September, it’s obsolete by November.
It’s not true that the best plan wins. It is true that the best intelligence wins.
Each and every weekthese leaders have a brief check-in with each team member, during which they ask two simple questions: What are your priorities this week? How can I help?
The best, most effective way to create clarity of expectations is to figure out how to let your people figure it out for themselves.
We started with MBOs, or Management by Objectives, first popularized by Peter Drucker in his 1954 book The Practice of Management. Then came SMART goals, followed shortly by KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals, in Jim Collins’s memorable framing). The latest incarnation, OKRs (Objectives and Key Results), originated at Intel and is now used by much of Silicon Valley for defining and tracking goals and measuring them against your “key results.”
In the real world, there is work—stuff that you have to get done. In theory world, there are goals. Work is ahead of you; goals are behind you—they’re your rear-view mirror. Work is specific and detailed; goals are abstract. Work changes fast; goals change slowly, or not at all. Work makes you feel like you have agency; goals make you feel like a cog in a machine. Work makes you feel trusted; goals make you feel distrusted. Work is work; goals aren’t. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Goals can be a force for good.
We would never tell Lionel Messi to try to play with his right foot.
We’re often told that the key to learning is to get out of our comfort zones, but this finding gives the lie to that particular chestnut—take us out of our comfort zones and our brains stop paying attention to anything other than surviving the experience. It’s clear that we learn most in our comfort zone.

The book names nine lies about work.  Here are the nine:

LIE #1 People care which company they work for
LIE #2 The best plan wins
LIE #3 The best companies cascade goals
LIE #4 The best people are well-rounded
LIE #5 People need feedback
LIE #6 People can reliably rate other people
LIE #7 People have potential
LIE #8 Work-life balance matters most
LIE #9 Leadership is a thing.

Here are a few of the points I shared from the book:

      • Some things to do
      • weekly meetings with team members – This leads us to one of the most important insights shared by the best team leaders: frequency trumps quality.
      • people have to set their own goals!– If a goal is going to be useful, if it is going to help you contribute more, then the only criterion is that you must set it for yourself, voluntarily. Any goal imposed upon you from above is an un-goal.
      • What exactly is a strength?
      • This sensation is not, at root, created by how good you are at something. Rather, it’s created by how that activity makes you feel. A strength, properly defined, is not “something you are good at.”
      •  “Something you are good at” is not a strength; it is an ability.
      • A strength, on the other hand, is an “activity that makes you feel strong.”
      • Look for the spiky
      • the best people are spiky, and in their lovingly honed spikiness they find their biggest contribution, their fastest growth, and, ultimately, their greatest joy. 

And here are my six lessons and takeaways:

#1 – Give up measuring others.  Work on yourself
#2 – Forget the “company.”  Focus on your team.
#3 – Forget overcoming your weaknesses. Focus on really excelling in your area(s) of strength.
#4 – Forget giving, and receiving, feedback. Instead work on giving yourself feedback.
#5 – Do aim for meaning; (and) something that makes you “spiky.” – In other words, what really matters to you really does matter!
#6 – Keep growing and learning – especially in your area of strength(s).

I agreed with plenty from the book:  people work for and in teams, not companies, for example.  And, people really do not do well with feedback.  Yep!

So, you may be wondering, where was my disagreement?  I’m something of a fan of the OKRs strategic planning approach (and its cousins, with other initials).  Reading this book made me think of other books I’ve read.  One specific one is The 4 Disciplines of Execution, which speaks of the whirlwind (of every-day work demands; always demanding!) — the whirlwind which overwhelms needed big-picture thinking and planning. I think the authors of this book were dealing primarily with the “whirlwind,” and some leaders, somewhere, need to step back for some bigger picture thinking.

And, I disagree with the dismissal of “culture” in this book.  Though it is true that people work for teams, and there are good teams in bad companies and bad teams in good companies, I do believe in the reality of company culture. (Consider Herb Kelleher and his years at Southwest Airlines).

But, the book did make me think  — to think long and hard about issues. And my disagreements with it are worthy of more pondering, and more discussion.

Anyway, this is a good book.  Read it.  In addition to spurring your thinking about some pretty big issues, It is likely to help you, especially as you focus on teams; and on strengths..


My synopsis of this book will be available soon on this web site. Each synopsis comes with my multi-page, comprehensive synopsis handout, along with the audio recording of my presentation from our live event in Dallas.  Click here to check out our newest offerings.

AND, SPECIAL NOTE:  The chapter on “Leadership is a Thing” contains a brilliant look at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his leadership.  And, the story weaves a narrative about the museum in Memphis connected to the Lorraine Motel, the site of Dr. King’s death.  I went to the motel before the museum was constructed.  I’m headed back soon.  This book made me even more glad I’ve planned such a trip.  This chapter was genuinely moving.  Get the book to read this one chapter; you will not be sorry you did.

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