Marcus Buckingham

Your Double Life.

Individual contributors become managers every day, and when they do the event is usually quite clear and visible to everyone in the organization. But the transition from manager to leader can be another story entirely.

I just read a terrific post by Butterfly co-founder Simon Rakosi called “Why Transforming Managers into Leaders Shouldn’t be Left to Chance.” He points out some great distinctions between management and leadership, including Managers educate around skills and tasks; leaders inspire around a vision and Managers view their employees in silos; leaders focus on team dynamics.

The challenge in our dynamic, hyper-kinetic industry is that there’s rarely a clean breaking point between one job and the next: it’s rare that someone ever says “I’m done being a manager now: time to start leading!” Most senior digital sales executives will pivot between these two roles a thousand times – often within the same day.

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On paper, the chief revenue officer is a leadership job, while the regional director is pretty clearly a manager. But the CRO must instantly snap back into manager mode when working with her direct reports, while the regional director must step up and lead when in the presence of his full team. A couple of thoughts and ideas to make your head stop spinning:

  • Leaders play checkers, managers play chess. So says Marcus Buckingham in “The One Thing You Need to Know.” When you’re in leader mode, all the pieces move the same, so the message or policy is for everyone.  When managing, each piece moves differently:  focus on what’s right for the individual in front of you right now.
  • Lead in public, manage in private. Managing is an individual sport. Shut the door.
  • Every group deserves a culture. If you’re manager of a team of individual contributors and others – even if that group is just two or three people – start answering the question “What does it mean to be part of our team?” Better yet, answer it together.
  • You can never understand enough about how people work together. Process, process, process. Leaders rightly obsess about it, and their teams get more out of it than you might imagine. Beware of any discussion that ends with “We’ll figure that out…”

To all of you out there who are living double lives, make sure you live in the moment and be the best manager and leader you can be. Just be sure you know which is appropriate and called for at the time.

On Leadership.

On LeadershipAmong the dozen books I consistently recommend, there’s one that I consider a must-read for anyone tasked with leading a company, a sales force or any kind of team. I’m talking about Marcus Buckingham’s “The One Thing You Need to Know.” I’m thinking a lot about leadership just now, as it’s the central topic for the fall Seller Forum. And as inspiration, Buckingham doesn’t disappoint.

The trick about “The One Thing” is that it’s actually three things. After playing a little intellectual cat-and-mouse, the author tells you “The One Thing” about “Great Managing, Great Leading and Sustained Individual Success.” I’ll focus here on what he tells us about leadership and what it can mean to you.

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On my first reading, the revelation was that leading and managing were two completely different functions. “Managers play chess” (in which every piece – every individual in your company – has different qualities) and “leaders play checkers” (in which every piece moves the same) is another way of saying “management is individual and leadership is universal.” When you are leading, you are speaking to and for the entire organization – you are saying what’s true for all of us, not just some of us.

Which leads me to “The One Thing” about effective leaders: they are clear.

Clarity, according to Buckingham, is the single quality that all effective leaders share. He tells us that it’s more important for a leader to be clear than it is for him or her to be right: if you’re clear enough about what you believe, those who follow you will help “make you right” in the end. The leader is the one who clearly communicates what the company or group believes, its values and its destination.   But is there “One Thing” that it’s most important to be clear about? Yes. A leader clearly answers the question “Who do we serve?” Take a minute with this one: it only seems clear on the surface, and you may be surprised by how much ambiguity there is on this question in your own organization.

If you have a favorite book, quotation or TED Talk on leadership, I’d love for you to share it.

And if you are a digital media sales leader and would like to attend the Fall Seller Forum on Wednesday October 21st in New York, let us know right away. The event may be two months away, but more than a third of the available seats are already gone.

What Managers Do.

What Managers DoEverybody wants to talk about great leaders these days. But this management stuff is pretty hard work!

Many businesspeople don’t seriously distinguish between leadership and management, but they should.  As Marcus Buckingham says in The One Thing You Need to Know, “Leaders play checkers; managers play chess.”  In checkers, every piece moves exactly the same; there’s one leadership message that applies to everyone in the company.  In chess, every piece has its own quirky individual moves; management is about how you move and plan for the individual.

Over the past weeks I’ve conducted sales workshops for a dozen digital sales organizations, working closely with leaders and managers to “make it all stick” for their teams.  It always comes down to what the managers do; what they commit to and how they hold their sellers accountable.  So as we head into the long weekend and recharge for the middle of the year, let’s look at what managers do.

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Managers Break It All Down:  When leaders and companies inspire with soaring missions and motivational gems it can actually have an adverse effect on some sellers.  “I see where the company is going, but I just don’t see how I can get there.” The good manager sees the delta between grand vision and troubled reality and helps the seller navigate it, piece by piece. Which accounts have the best odds? Where will you spend your time?  Who are the right people? The good manager understands that talented sellers often need help building a plan.

Managers Keep Track of Actions:  In The Heart of the Game, Thomas Boswell points out that great baseball managers never obsess about the final score, which is after all just an outcome. Instead, they obsess about the interim actions and decisions that would have subtly changed the course of the game:  the base-running error in the second inning; the missed cutoff man in the sixth; swinging at the first pitch against a tiring starter.  They focus on how the game was played, which is ultimately controllable.  It’s the same with sales managers.  Watch, discuss, correct and reward the behaviors that will lead to sales.   If you don’t, you might be cluelessly celebrating hollow victories, lucky breaks.

Managers Remember:  It’s not sexy, but truly great managers are the institutional memories of their organizations.  They remember what they’ve asked their team members to do and when; they remember the narrative of key deals; they remember the behavioral promises of those they manage. It’s one of the reasons great managers commit to CRM systems and consistent reporting; and it’s the reason why so many instinctive, “lone wolf” sales superstars end up making lousy managers.  If you’re a great manager, your organization and process management are what frees your sellers to play a much bigger game for their customers, and for your company.

So if you’re reading this just before the holiday break, make sure you read it once more on Tuesday when you get back.  It might be the key to unlocking a productive new relationship with those you manage.

All Clear.

A friend recently forwarded a link to “Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch,” Shawn Parr’s contribution to the Fast Company blog.  The title, of course, is a riff on Peter Drucker’s famous maxim that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”  (But then Drucker was probably more of a morning person.)  As I consult and conduct workshops with hundreds of companies in the digital advertising and marketing world, the wisdom and urgency of this shared theme is inescapable.

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As the marketplace continues to morph and convulse at an astonishing pace, company leaders and sales managers are constantly adjusting their strategies, if not changing them outright.  But as wrenching and deep as these strategic shifts may appear at ground level, most end up having little or no lasting effect.  Like a house built on sand, they lack the solid foundation that a quality culture can provide.  Parr rightly points out that “culture” is misunderstood (considered intangible and fluffy) and mismanaged (relegated to Human Resources) in most companies and in most industries.  But I think it’s a particularly acute shortcoming in our world….and I think I know why.

Prisoners of Our Own Success. Many digital CEOs and sales leaders came into their own during times of prosperity.  It all came together for us “in the day,” so everybody just do what we’re doing and we’ll all be OK.

Rapid Ascent, Rapid Change. Ironically, we point to the pace of change and rapid buildout of our companies – the very reasons we so desperately need to establish cultures – as the reason we can’t afford the time to develop them.  Culture is something we’ll focus on once we’re established.

Perhaps some of this is inescapable:  given our backgrounds and the ever-changing landscape, maybe textbook culture development isn’t attainable.  (I don’t completely believe this, but I’ll go with it for now.)  But maybe it’s time to meet Peter Drucker halfway and focus on the one principle that will establish a beachhead of stable culture within most any company or team.


In “The One Thing You Need to Know,” Marcus Buckingham points out that great leaders may not always be right, but they are always clear.  And the thing they are most clear about is “Who Does Our Company Serve?” There’s only one right answer, but you’re likely to hear a half dozen if you informally poll your team members.  A clear statement like “We serve brands” will go a long way.  While you’re at it, here are a two more topics on which you should be aim to be especially clear:

What Business Are We In? The railroads famously got this wrong.  Had they said “logistics and transportation” instead of “running trains,” they’d be FedEx and Delta Airlines today.

How Do We Create Value? The operative word here is “create.”  The answer to this question is often masked by the mindless pursuit of product advancement.  Far more often, we create value through service innovation, insight generation and synthesis.   Good topic to spend some time on.

You may not be in a position to establish the culture of a Starbucks, Zappo’s or Home Depot, but you can convene your management team for a couple of hours around these three points of clarity.  If you don’t,  you may just continue throwing strategies at the problem without ever addressing its underlying cause.