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May 2019
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TD Magazine

Think Before You Believe

Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader's Guide to the Real World


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By Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall
Harvard Business Review Press, 256 pp., $30

A successful company has a great culture. It has a strategic plan in place complete with SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound) goals that measure performance. It encourages employees to fix their weaknesses. It knows that its employees crave feedback and work-life balance and that the best employees are well rounded. Above all, a successful company knows that "leadership is a thing."

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All lies. According to Buckingham and Goodall, lies are rampant in the corporate world. Research has shown us time and again that if people are invested in their jobs and care about their work, they'll be more productive and engaged. Thus, companies spend billions of dollars on technology and management practices to measure productivity and performance. In fact, these systems are so deeply ingrained into businesses that it's hard to imagine working without them. Yet they are fundamentally flawed. Ironically, current systems have succeeded in doing the very things they set out not to do: limit potential, inhibit talent, and stifle growth. What's more, these lies are so pervasive that the average person can't distinguish between what's true and what's not.

This book is about nine of these lies, all of which satisfy "an organization's need for control." The authors argue that individual uniqueness; a sturdy, cohesive team; less top-down planning; more meaningful attention; and goals aligned with individual purposes are the "truths" of work.

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If you're in middle management, a team leader, or consider yourself free-thinking, you'll want to read this book. But before you go so far as to define yourself as free-thinking, ponder the eight aspects introduced in chapter 1.

The authors explain that these eight aspects of employee experience are disproportionately evident in the highest-performing teams and are valid indicators of sustained team performance. Moreover, it is the team—not the culture—that is the most important experience of work.

Buckingham and Goodall suggest that team leaders should regularly take the time to discuss the eight aspects with each team member. "Whatever [your employees'] answers, you'll always be smarter because of them, and you'll always know you're paying attention to something that matters." Show your people that you care enough to talk to them about their uniqueness and where they're going, but let them figure out how to get there.

There are more lies to come. If you're looking for a refreshing read that challenges the conventional wisdom of the business world, this is a book for your shelf.

About the Author

Edythe Richards is a career counselor and founder of A Top Career.

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