First, Break all the Rules Summary, Quotes, and Review (Commentary)


1-Line Summary: First, Break All The Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman shares the unconventional methods that great managers adopt to increase the performance of their team, increase growth opportunities, and retain the best talents within the company.

First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently
  • Hardcover Book
  • Marcus Buckingham (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 350 Pages – 05/01/2016 (Publication Date) – Gallup Pr (Publisher)

Last update on 2024-05-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon

Who should read “First, Break All The Rules Summary”?

I recommend every manager to read this book summary.

It would help you learn the wisdom of great managers.

This book was written after so many interviews with great managers.

Although every manager has a unique style of managing people, you can still learn a few things from this book.

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About the authors: Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman (Gallup)

keynote speaker marcus buckingham
Credit: Image Source

Before diving into the summary, let’s learn a few things about the authors.

According to Wikipedia, Marcus Wilfrid Buckingham (born 11 January 1966) is an English author, motivational speaker, and business consultant based in California.

And according to his website:

“He is known as the world’s most prominent researcher on strengths and leadership at work, and today leads research at the ADP Research Institute.”

In short: This guy knows about leadership and management.

(One more reason you should read this book.)

The other author is Curt Coffman, a former employee of Gallup.

The newer version of the book (the version I have bought) doesn’t mention the name of these authors, though.

The book says that it’s from Gallup.

Maybe that’s because both the authors were former employees there.

If you haven’t heard about Gallup, it’s an American management consultancy company.

First Break All The Rules Summary (PDF)

Are you a manager in a company and frustrated about handling your people?

Do you want to learn how great managers think and manage thousands of people under them?

If you said yes, this book summary would help you a lot.

Overall, this summary will develop a business sense in you.

You will learn about the critical aspects of improving performance in a company.

This summary is a compilation of the best lessons I have learned from this book.

So without further ado…

Let’s dive in quickly!

Lesson #1: Retention of talented employees is critical for any company’s growth and success.

Talented employee standing apart from others

Every company needs employees to work on the company’s goals.

But not every employee is equally helpful to a company.

In theory, every employee should be equal.

But that’s not true.


That’s because we are fundamentally humans.

And we are not some machines who can do the same tasks the same way.

We all possess different talents.

Sure, you can teach people how to do a task.

But even then, they won’t do it the same way.

Every person has a different way of thinking and seeing things.

We all have mental filters that change the meaning of almost everything we see or do.

The author says that great managers must acquire and nurture great talents for a company to have tremendous growth.

Yes, it’s a difficult thing to achieve.

According to the author, most big companies don’t know how to measure their skill to acquire, nurture, and retain talented people in their companies.

As a result, they don’t achieve exponential growth.

When the talented employees feel that the company doesn’t care about them, more specifically their managers, they switch to a different company.

Often those employees end up with the competitors expecting a better salary and work environment.

Who is responsible for managing employees?

Sure, the managers are the ones who are supposed to manage them.

The author says that if a company faces an employee-retention problem, they should look at their managers.

A great manager knows how to get the best of his employees, bring out their true potential, and retain them.

Again, not all employees are equal.

This sounds contrary to what we are used to hearing that treat all employees.

But the author disagrees with this conventional wisdom.

According to him, sometimes, managers have to play favorites.

After all, managers are there to help the company make more profit.

When will the company make more profit?

Only when the managers will bring out the talents of their employees and make them work better.

To achieve this, managers should look deep within the employees’ minds.

Again, this isn’t a simple thing to do.

That’s the reason managers are needed in every company.

One might say that managers are not needed anymore.

Sure, companies are okay with self-directed teams. But for most companies, managers are essential to bring the best out of their employees and thus achieve more efficiency.

The Takeaway: Learn to retain your most talented employees by providing them with a good work environment and hiring great managers. That’s how the company will grow.

Lesson #2: How employees feel about their immediate managers impacts their productivity and efficiency at work.

a manager scolding his employee and shouting at him

Often when employees are not satisfied with their job and think about switching to a different company, the problem is probably due to these two things:

  • The employee is terrible.
  • The immediate manager is awful.

Yeah, it may also happen that an employee doesn’t know what is good for him and calls the company bad.

The easiest way to find out is to check if other employees feel the same way or not.

So if most people think that manager is not good, then chances are the manager doesn’t know what he is doing.

In that case, it would be better for the company to change the manager.

On the flip side, if only a single employee has bad feelings about the company, it might be better to let that employee go.

There is no need to change the manager just because an employee doesn’t like him.

The author, during his research, found that if the employees are in harmony with their immediate managers, then the overall efficiency of the team is good.

And the employees are more satisfied. They feel that their work is valued and the company cares about them.

The key idea here is:

If you want your employees to work energetically and efficiently, hire a good manager.

What’s the role of a good manager?

Is it to act bossy or help the employees find their strengths?

Of course, the latter one is the best option.

A manager must know how to spot or find unique talents within their employees and then treat them accordingly.

Often companies expect the same results from each of their employees.

This is the wrong way!


That’s because you can’t expect the same results from everyone.

Some employees will indeed outperform others because we all have a unique set of talents.

Some people are naturally good at doing specific tasks.

But this also doesn’t mean that a good manager should ignore an employee’s experience, skills, and knowledge.

A great manager knows that not all employees can bring excellent results, and therefore it’s better to treat them unequally.

But this is a problem.

When a manager treats an employee better than others, the other employees feel not valued. This again affects how they feel about their manager.

And as a result, it affects the efficiency of the team.

The key is: Not to over promote an employee. But make a few favorites based on their performance and talents.

Managers should also let their employees know the reason for their actions.

Again, there will always be unhappy employees.

It’s just hard to do everything right.

Great managers learn these skills with time.

So by dealing with their employees smartly, they can retain them and bring out the best of them. And thus help the company grow.

The Takeaway: Managers are one of the key players in the growth of a business. Not having a great manager impacts the employees’ efficiency and productivity.

Lesson #3: Contrary to conventional wisdom, it’s challenging to change people despite their unlimited potential to grow.

a manager holding a messge that says don't resist change embrace it

We have heard the phrases like “We all have unlimited potential to grow and change!”

But according to the author, this is not true.

Yes, we can change.

But the question is:

How much can we change?

Wise managers know that people don’t like change.

So if a manager is trying to make a fundamental shift in the thinking of his employees, then he is simply wasting his time, energy, and money.


That’s because we don’t like to change.

Even if we change our habits and behaviors, it happens on a superficial level.

If you have hated the corporate world so far in your life, chances are, you will hate it all your life.

No man on the earth will be able to change you…

Unless something dramatic happens in your life and challenges you to question your beliefs, of course.

So many books have been written about how beliefs and desires are the root cause behind all our suffering.

Apparently, despite all that, people still struggle with silly problems.

The question is:

If managers can’t change people, then what’s the point?

Well, it’s not like you can’t change people at all.

But it’s just a waste of time.

Even if you succeed in changing an employee, it won’t be enough.

So the best way is not to put energy into drastically changing the employee.

What do great managers do then?

The answer is:

They identify unique talents within the employees and work on their strengths.

Let me give you an example:

Let’s say your company needs a salesperson.

You tell me what’s better:

‘Hire a salesperson” OR ‘Hire a normal person and then teach him about sales?

It’s better to hire a salesperson.

It might cost you more money, but it will save you precious time and energy.

Plus, the efficiency would be better overall.

That’s why great managers have realized that they should not put effort into changing people. Instead, they should find people who fit the profile.

The Takeaway: Changing humans on a fundamental level is an arduous task. Great managers are competent. They identify the strengths of their employees and capitalize on them.

Lesson #4: Managers are not the same as leaders. They are different!

manager doesn't equal to leader

This is one of the biggest takeaways from this book.

Earlier, I also believed that “managers = leaders.”

I believed all managers were leaders. And all leaders were managers.

I have also used these words interchangeably before.

But that’s not correct!

The role of a manager is way different than that of a leader.

The author has beautifully explained this…

According to the author, leaders think broadly while the manager looks deep.

As discussed earlier, a great manager always tries to understand the employees’ unique talents.

But great leaders focus more on the entire team and how the company will grow overall.

A leader sees the bigger picture. In contrast, the manager focuses more on the quality of its elements.

The author says that not knowing the difference between such words can harm the company.

He says that not all great managers can be great leaders and vice-versa.

Sure some talented managers can become great leaders.

But it’s rare.

Most people think that leaders are the same as managers.

How not knowing this fact can affect a company?

If a company doesn’t know the difference between a leader and a manager, they will hire the wrong people.

Also, it’s essential to set the right expectations for any employee.

If you expect a talented leader to be a great manager, he might not fit in.

This may create problems in the employee-manager relationships.

Book Recommendation: To learn more about leadership, I recommend reading this summary. This will help you understand leadership better.

The takeaway: Never confuse leaders with managers. They are not the same. Not knowing the difference between these two words may harm the company in the long run.

Lesson #5: Even great managers can’t teach talent. Only skills can be taught.

We all are talented at something. But it’s not necessarily the same.

The author says that talent is not something you can teach.

So it’s better to hunt for talent.

Often people confuse talent with skills.

Skills can be turned into repeatable steps.

For instance, you can learn to play guitar after learning scales and chords.

And you can teach the same to another person.

But whether you will become like Eddie Van Halen will be decided if you possess the talent for playing guitar.

Does this mean you can’t become successful without talent?

No. You can be great at a thing, but to become exceptional, you must have some talent.

How does this knowledge apply to managers?

It helps great managers to save time.

They create processes to teach the skills.

And try their best to select people who already have the talent for the position or role required.

Wondering why talent can’t be taught?

The author explains that talents are thinking patterns that come quickly to us.

For instance, you might be naturally good at solving puzzles.

Or you might be a knack for finding errors in the software’s code.

Everyone has something that comes naturally.

During his research, the author found that we have synapses (connections) between neurons.

The stronger the connections, the faster the processing in our brain.

Some regions of our brain are good at logic, while others are good at imagination.

For most people, it’s a mix.

That’s the reason there is diversity in talent.

Not all people have equal talents.

It’s hard to tell what talent you have, though.

You can’t just look at a person’s face and tell about his unique talents.

That’s why the role of a manager is demanding.

He has to judge and find out the unique talents of each of his employees and try to find their strengths.

Often managers make a mistake. They mix skills with talent.

Remember, skills can be taught, but to become truly exceptional, some talent is required.

Maybe you think that if someone is talented, he must be unique.

No, that’s not true.

If this were true, we didn’t have more than one legend.

What does this mean?

It means that talent is not as rare as we think.

Myth: Talents are rare and unique.

The author declares such ideas as myths.

And it’s no wonder because talent is affected by many factors.

For example, the genes you have, the environment you grew up in, the circumstances you faced, etc., all, at some point, affect your talents.

Often we have a set of talents. That’s what makes a person unique.

Sheer talent alone doesn’t make you special.

You might be a talented painter. So what? There are many more who are even more capable than you.

Now, you might be a talented painter and a talented writer. This makes you a little rare.

But still, it doesn’t matter how talented you are. There is always someone who can be better than you at the same thing.

In the book “Talent Is Never Enough” we learned that talent alone wouldn’t make you successful.

You also need many other things like patience, determination, practice, etc. to become a master of your art. (Read the book summary here)

The takeaway: Don’t try to teach talent. Teach skills. Find talented people. Don’t waste your time creating talented employees. Search what talent they possess already and then bring it out. It’s better to hire talents that you are sure will excel in a particular role. This is the wisdom of great managers.

Lesson #6: Not every role is suitable for everyone.

Often managers think that if the role is easy, they don’t need to put extra effort into selecting talented people.

They think that anybody can do it.

No! Anybody can’t do it.

Throw away this idea from your mind if you want to become a great manager.

According to the author, even for the simple role, the employees must be carefully selected and studied.

But why does the author say so? That’s because if you don’t find a talent-role fit, you will end up hiring the wrong person.

Sooner or later, that person will become a pain for the manager.

Even the person himself would become bored after doing something he is not interested in.

Also, there may be trust issues.

It’s hard to trust an employee who doesn’t like his job.

Isn’t it?

Plus, if that not-so-fit employee messes something, who will be blamed?

Yes, the manager will be blamed because it’s his job to manage his people.

If he fails to do that, then he is a lousy manager.

Great managers select the right talent in the first place before assigning the role.

Using this approach, they avoid unnecessary pain.

An average person needs more time to do the same thing than a talented one.

That means:

If you fail to hire talented people, it’ll kill your team’s overall performance.

You don’t want that as a great manager, right?

Or do you?

The biggest problem here is:

If your employees are not working the right way, you’ll have to do their tasks and waste a lot of energy and resources to train them.

Ultimately, the manager’s job is to increase the performance.

So do proper research before you hire a person for a role.

Just because a role is easy, don’t assume that anybody will do it.

Remember that every person has a unique set of talents or mindset.

As a manager, your job is to find the right talents that fit a particular role.

The Takeaway: Find the right talents for the right roles. Period. Don’t hire anybody and expect him to act like a talented person.

Lesson #7: Over-controlling people in your team is a bad strategy.

a person controlling another person by turning the key

The truth is:

Even if you are a manager, you won’t control every person in your team the way you want to.

So snap out of that dream of building a team where everyone listens to you and does exactly what you say.

Not going to happen!

Perfect people don’t exist.

Also, it’s a bad strategy to force people against their will.

They won’t do it with total energy.

It will sap out their energy and ultimately kill the performance.

A great manager knows this fact.

But being a manager, you will have to manage people anyway.

So how to manage people wisely?

The author gives an interesting technique.

He says that:

A great manager sets or defines clear outcomes and then allows each person to find his own unique ways to achieve those outcomes.

So as long as your employees are meeting their objectives, you don’t have to dive into their matter.

Of course, you have to measure the measure. Just don’t make things hard for your employees by telling them what to do all the time.

Again, talent plays a crucial role here.

If you have smartly hired talented individuals who fit a role, you won’t need to tell much to those individuals.

Does that mean all your problems will be solved if you hire talented people?


No matter how much we like that to happen, humans are complex.

It’s way too hard to judge a person and identify his unique talents and strengths.

You can imagine, right?

Even we don’t know the things we are good at.

So how can another person know it with 100% accuracy?

Despite all these complexities, great managers try their best to identify their talents.

It’s still better than not doing anything.

Sure, your team’s performance won’t be ideal. But it will still be better.

And it’ll have you a lot of frustration.

Managers who don’t understand these ideas end up with a lousy workforce.

As a result, they become frustrated and over-possessive.

The culture and work environment suffers consequently.

The Takeaway: Hire talented people in the first place. You don’t need to control people. Manage them wisely by defining clear objectives and letting your employees find their methods to achieve them.

Lesson #8: Great managers give freedom to employees. But still, there are some basic guidelines that everyone must follow.

a manager managing his team of employees

This is a bit hard to implement.

So it’s essential to provide the freedom to employees to choose their path.

But whatever actions they perform, they must not go against the basic rules and regulations.

Let me give you an example.

There are many online hosting companies.

They provide fantastic support to the customers.

The support staff can help the customers in the best way possible.

But despite that, they are not allowed to see or share the customer’s private details. This goes against the rules.

But why do we need rules and regulations?

Wouldn’t it be best to give full authority to the employees?

It sounds good in theory.

But in real life, not all employees are good.

Sometimes, employees act in such a way that hurts the company’s reputation.

Also, the manager’s job is to enhance the team’s performance overall.

Although a manager is supposed to nurture each person’s talents, he doesn’t have to spend all his time doing this.

Rules and regulations help prevent disasters in a company. They keep things in order, especially when the manager is not present.

After all, managers are not policemen, says the author.

Managers don’t have to follow every person all the time.

So they set a few basic norms that everyone has to follow.

Rules are set in such a way that they speed up the growth of everyone.

Employees too benefit from such rules.

And the company also makes sure that a certain level of performance is maintained by its employees.

The takeaway: A little control is reasonable. But too much freedom sometimes can be harmful if a person doesn’t know how to use it mindfully. A great manager knows how to avoid the temptation of controlling people unless it becomes necessary to interfere.

Lesson #9: Managers keep the interest of both the company and the employees.

a manager sitting near a table and holding his hands together while thinking

As discussed earlier, managers help individuals find their talents and help a company achieve maximum performance.

But the problems start when a manager fails to do either of them.

Sometimes, what’s best for the employees is not best for the company.

For instance, if a manager wants to make his employees happy, he may reduce work hours.

That way, employees will have to work less and get more time to spend with their families.

The employees will be delighted and love their manager.

Sound good, right?

But wait…

What about the performance?

Yes, it will suffer.

And the company will make less profit.

Eventually, the manager’s report card will reflect him as a lousy manager.

Remember, the main job of a manager is to increase the performance by managing people well — to guide them to work according to their talents.

Average managers struggle to find a balance in such cases.

They tend to fall on one side.

They either focus more on satisfying their employees or care less about them and focus more on performance.

And it’s not their fault.

This may be a difficult situation to deal with.

Great managers find unique ways to deal with such situations using their talents.

That’s not all…

A manager also has to ensure that customer satisfaction is maintained.

The performance of a manager is often judged by how satisfied customers are.

So they also have to sometimes deal with the customers.

Savvy managers choose talented people to deal with customers and thus ensure customer satisfaction.

The takeaway: A manager’s job is not easy. He has to deal with his superiors, employees, and customers. A great manager ensures performance and at the same time handles his team wisely.

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First Break All The Rules Review

First, Break All the Rules
  • PRESS GALLUP (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • SIMON & SCHUSTER (Publisher)

Last update on 2024-05-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon

I liked this book.

I bought the hardcover version.

If you want to learn about the psyche of great managers, you shouldn’t think much and just buy this book.

You won’t be disappointed.

The book gets a bit repetitive in the last chapters, though.

But overall, I enjoyed reading this book.

The writing style of the authors was easy to understand.

I would give this book a rating of 8.5/10.

Now it’s your turn!

There you have it.

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Thanks for reading this and investing your precious time here.

Shami Manohar

The Brain Behind

I am Shami Manohar, the founder of WizBuskOut. My obsession with non-fiction books has fueled me with the energy to create this website. I read at least one book every week on topics such as business, critical thinking, mindset, psychology, and more.

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