Average managers play checkers; great managers play chess

If you click it quickly today, you can get Buckingham’s What Great Managers Do from the Harvard Business Review into your Pocket. Buckingham argues that you can be a great manager and a great leader, but being a great manager means focusing on your team’s distinctions whereas being a great leader means focusing on your team’s commonalities.

Buckingham says too many managers try to treat everyone on their team as if they had the same capabilities — like checkers pieces. In contrast, great managers treat them like chess pieces with different capabilities that work together — if arranged correctly. (“Fine shadings of personality, though they may be invisible to some and frustrating to others, are crystal clear to and highly valued by great managers.”)

On the flip side, “Great leaders discover what is universal and capitalize on it. Their job is to rally people toward a better future.” Unfortunately, Buckingham doesn’t go much farther on the leadership discussion — but I do love the contrast.

This is great and all. But what about running a short-lived consulting team for a client (or even for people who find themselves running short-lived project teams)? How can a delivery manager figure out people’s strengths and weaknesses really quickly to make sure the team can fully execute and then disband? Buckingham has some ideas about probing for someone’s strengths pretty quickly. Ask: “What was the best day at work you’ve had in the past three months?” To find their weaknesses, invert the question: “What was the worst day you’ve had at work in the past three months?”

Interestingly, I think all this could be really useful for managing accounts generally. By that I mean that most serious consulting engagements with large clients are multi-year, multi-team types of engagement, which brings its own kind of management with it.

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