Nine Lies About Work

Physical Copy:


By: Marcus Buckingham

Rating: B-

The concept of the book is that there are commonly accepted lies that we use regularly in business. The author through pretty thorough research debunks the lies and shares advice for how to implement the actual truths. There were several lies that I thought were truths. See which lies you thought were truths.


Lie # 1: People care which company they work for.

Truth: People care which team they’re on.

Cultural plumage matters little in practice. It doesn’t matter if you have a ping pong table in the breakroom if there is no engagement and passion within the work.

The engagement, content, and nature of your work is defined by your daily interactions with your immediate team-mates and leaders. Teams are where the real work and relationships actually happen.

People working on a team tend to feel more engaged. Those who trust their team leaders are 12x more likely to be fully engaged at work.

The next time you are researching a company, don’t bother to ask about its culture. Instead, ask what it does to build great teams.

As a leader, your time is best spent developing your teams.

Lie # 2: The best plan always wins.

Truth: The best intelligence wins.

Instead of sticking to a rigid plan (which can quickly become obsolete), it’s much better to rely on detailed, real-time inputs from your team members. 

A basic plan is necessary. But spend time developing an intelligence system to gather real-time inputs. 

Use those inputs to change your strategies and tactics to deal with real-time issues.

Lie # 3: The best companies cascade goals.

Truth: The best companies cascade meaning.

Goals are often more of a constraint than a performance motivator. The best team leaders don’t cascade goals or use them as a control mechanism. Instead, they cascade meaning. 

People want to know what they all share.

Communicate the vision for your company and why it matters. Teach people how to execute the vision using their unique abilities. And give your people a stake in the outcome (i.e. a financial benefit).

Lie # 4: The best people are well-rounded.

Truth: The best people are spiky, not well-rounded.

For humans, uniqueness is a feature, not a bug.

Many organizations use competency models to define the qualities for an ideal candidate. These are then used as a basis for hiring, training and performance evaluation. 

What if this approach is fundamentally flawed, and competency models don’t actually work?

In school we were taught to be well-rounded. That serves us in learning basic reading, writing, and arithmetic. But after that, being well-rounded doesn’t allow us to reach our full potential. 

Over and over the past year I have heard how the most successful or the people who make the most impact focus on their unique ability. The best people spend the majority of their time doing things they are uniquely gifted to do. These are their strengths. The things that may be work but they are energizing and passionate about. 

Lie #5: People need feedback.

Truth: People need attention, not feedback.

When we hear about millennials, we often hear that they are needy and need constant feedback.

We also assume that frequent, candid feedback is necessary for improvement. 

Again, that’s not true. 

Most feedback is biased, ineffective, and can even demotivate people and worsen performance.

What people actually want is authentic attention. Seems obvious but people want to build real relationships with their team whether they are your subordinates or your boss.

Pay attention to what is being done right and build on it instead.

This is a practice Pete Carroll has had for years. Catch people doing right and encourage it to be done over and over.

Lie # 6: People can reliably rate other people.

Truth: We can reliably rate our own experiences, but not other people.

We only have our own experience.

It is very difficult to accurately and consistently rate others throughout an organization. 

Recognize this. Seek honest feedback from individuals about their experience. Not others.

Lie # 7: People have potential.

Truth: People have momentum, not potential.

Our career progress is often pegged to our “potential” (as evaluated by our managers). 

Unfortunately, this word is actually meaningless, since every human being has potential and it doesn’t predict someone’s performance at all. 

It’s much better to establish someone’s momentum, i.e. how and how fast they’re moving through the world.

Everyone has potential. The hungry people that are eagerly seeking more, delivering more than is expected, and actively growing themselves are the ones you want on your team.

Lie # 8: Work life balance matters most.

Truth: Love-in-work matters most.

“Work-life balance” is yet another common but flawed concept about the workplace. 

In reality, what we’re truly wrestling with isn’t work vs life, but things we love vs loathe. 

If you want to express yourself fully and thrive in your most elevated state (and help your team to do so), you need “love-in-work”. 

This is found by determining your unique ability and spending time doing that. See above.

“The best people spend the majority of their time doing things they are uniquely gifted to do. These are their strengths. The things that may be work but they are energizing and passionate about.”

Lie # 9: Leadership is a thing.

Truth: We all follow spikes.

Great leadership isn’t a thing with fixed traits.

Leadership isn’t a “thing” that can be created by fulfilling a list of traits or criteria. The most respected leaders in history (e.g. Martin Luther King, Eleanor Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy) don’t share a fixed set of leadership qualities. People follow them because of their “spikes”, or the 1-2 distinct strengths which they use to make a huge impact in a specific area.

The spikes are their unique abilities where they are experts and uniquely gifted. People follow those because there is certainty and passion.

It is easy to follow someone who is passionate about what they are doing and have a vision of themselves in a bigger, more impactful future.

Next Actions:

Truth: The best intelligence wins. How can we intentionally collect real time data for our business?

Truth: The best people focus on their Unique Ability. Have every new hire complete the Unique Ability exercises during the hiring process.

Truth: People need attention, not feedback. Every person in our business needs a daily check in with their superior.

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