Grow and Convert Leadership and Innovation

A new framework for creating a more engaging and effective workplace

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...
16 min read

 Praise for Nine Lies About Work

Named one of “Our 10 favorite new books for people managers” by SHRM (Society for Human Resource Managers)

One of the Financial Times “Business Books of the Month”

Named a Bloomberg Businessweek pick

Named one of “14 business books everyone will be reading in 2019” by Business Insider

Named one of “10 Leadership Books to Watch for in 2019” by the Washington Post

Named one of “10 Business Books You Need to Read in 2019” by Inc. magazine

Named one of “The 19 New Leadership Books to Read in 2019” by Adam Grant on LinkedIn

About the authors 

Marcus Buckingham is a global researcher and thought leader focused on unlocking people’s strengths, increasing their performance, and pioneering the future of how people work. He is head of all people and performance research at the ADP Research Institute and the author of several bestselling books, including StandOut 2.0: Assess Your Strengths, Find Your Edge, Win at Work (Harvard Business Review Press).

Ashley Goodall is Senior Vice President of Leadership and Team Intelligence at Cisco. Previously, he was Director and Chief Learning Officer, Leader Development, at Deloitte. He is the co-author, with Marcus Buckingham, of two Harvard Business Review cover stories, “Reinventing Performance Management,” in April 2015, and “The Feedback Fallacy,” in March/April 2019.

The authors argue that the workplace is filled with inaccurate systems, methods, tools, and assumptions that limit people’s capacity to express their distinctive talents in what they do every day.

The authors refer to these behaviors as “misconceptions,” myths, or misunderstandings that have been rooted in society because it is difficult to determine their genuine nature.

These nine myths may not surprise those who are familiar with social and psychometric studies or have learned them on the job. But I know that for the majority of you, these lies would be astonishing! You can begin your job hunt by looking online, such as on Glassdoor or other job boards, asking friends about their jobs and experiences, or speaking with a recruiter. Wherever you look, you’ll wonder if what you’re seeing is representative of the organization and gives you the inside story. 

By asking these questions below, we hope to learn about the company culture.

What will your coworkers think of you? What will they do to you? How will the day unfold? Will your work be challenging, interesting, and valued? Is this corporation concerned about its workers? Will this company spend as much on you and your career as you do after you apply, interview, negotiate, and get hired?

Three major contributions make culture important. First, it identifies you at work. To work at Deloitte, his cousin’s Accenture, or Microsoft, says something about you, sets you apart, and defines your tribe.

Second, culture is now used to explain success. Third, culture now defines our company’s direction.

Case study : the “Secret Sauce” to Cisco’s Success

After qualitative research at Cisco, the authors divided their findings into two groups: one from high-performing teams and one from low- or average-performing teams. Its goal was to understand what distinguishes high-performing teams from the perspectives of their members.

They discovered eight employee experience questions that show up significantly on high-performing teams after conducting hundreds of investigations across numerous organizations.

  1. I am passionate about my company’s mission.
  1. I easily comprehend work expectations.
  1. I work with folks who share my ideals.
  1. I can utilize my strengths daily at work.
  1. My colleagues who support me.
  1. I anticipate recognition for exceptional work.
  1. I am optimistic about my company’s future.
  1. I am always challenged to progress at work.

These eight questions measure the most crucial elements of our work experience—performance, voluntary turnover, lost workdays, workplace accidents, and customer satisfaction.

Eight issues will serve as the authors’ guide for their research, and they find that culture is the most difficult because “it doesn’t actually help us understand what to do more of, less of, or differently.” It might indicate the type of company we’re entering. What matters most is where the experiences are located—in your team, networks, and leaders.



Lie #1: People care about the company for which they work

Based on their data, the authors revealed that this is never the case and that the range of these scores is always bigger inside a company than between companies.

When people choose not to work somewhere, that somewhere is a team, not a company.

If an employee works on a bad team at a successful company, he will tend to stick around; however, if we put him on a bad team, he will not stay long.

The truth: People care which team they’re on (because that’s where work actually happens)

Why do teams’ matter? Why do they matter much more than cultural prestige?

Teams help us identify where to focus and what to do. 

This is something that culture does not do because it is too abstract.

Teams connect us day-to-day, both in terms of the nature of our job and the colleagues with whom we do it. Culture, on the other hand, does not.

Lie #2 the best plan wins

Companies often believe that the best plan wins, as it provides certainty and structure. However, many plans are generic, outdated, and difficult to implement. While planning helps define problems and organize thoughts, it does not provide solutions or help create a better future. Smart employees scope problems and find solutions, but planning is not about finding solutions. The people behind the plan may lack real-world data, making it difficult to formulate plans. It is essential for employees to engage with the world and interact with it as it is, rather than relying solely on planning.

The truth is that the best intelligence wins. (Because the world moves too fast for plans)

Building an intelligent system instead of a planning system is crucial to releasing real-time knowledge about the world. Frequent check-ins with team members are key to increasing engagement and performance. Research shows that checking in once a week increases engagement by 13%, while once a month results in a 5% decrease. Trusting your team’s intelligence is essential for psychological safety and enhancing performance and engagement.

Lie #3: The best company cascade goals

Companies often set goals to create alignment and performance, such as SMART goals, KPIs, and OKRs. These goals are used to stimulate and coordinate performance, track progress, and evaluate employees at the end of the year. However, there is no evidence that having goals set from above motivates performance better, as they can reduce it. Tracking performance is not effective due to the non-linear nature of progress toward goals. Evaluating employees based on goals is difficult due to the complexity of each person’s goals. Objectives exist in the theoretical world, while work is concrete and thorough. While objectives can be valuable, they should not be a force for good.

The truth: The best companies cascade meaning. (Because people want to know what they all share)

A good goal should be set voluntarily by the employee rather than imposed from above. Instead of cascading goals, focus on meaning and purpose. The best leaders recognize their people’s wisdom and don’t need to coerce them into alignment through yearly goal setting. They aim to bring the meaning and purpose of their work to life, focusing on the missions, contributions, and methods that truly matter. This approach ensures alignment and success in the workplace.

Lie #4 The best people are well-rounded

Lie #4 is my favorite’s so far.

The theory of excellence that says the best person is well-rounded is incorrect. Research shows that the best teams are built around the optimal fit between strengths and roles, regardless of industry or nationality. Companies use a competency model, which is a trait that individuals should possess to excel in their profession. This system is based on the myth that the best people are well-rounded. The belief that our strengths should be feared is not only questionable, but so are the principles driving it. The study of outstanding performance in any profession demonstrates that brilliance is idiosyncratic, and each top performer is distinctive and excels because they have recognized and intelligently cultivated their uniqueness.

The truth: The best people are spiky (because uniqueness is a feature, not a bug)

In the real world, individuals strive to maximize their unique traits and skills, with the best people being those who find fulfillment in their uniqueness and cultivate this love with intelligence and discipline. Growth is not about gaining ability where we lack it, but increasing impact where we already have it. Diversity is magnified in great performance, not minimizing it but focusing on uniqueness. The sense of having the chance to use our strengths every day at work is the most powerful predictor of team performance and engagement. Focusing on strengths increases performance and creates growth. The best leaders focus on each team member’s strengths, allowing them to learn and grow.

Lie #5 People need feedback

We love telling people what we think of them. Feedback is a gift.

As a team leader, you will be told that one of the most important and difficult aspects of your job is to communicate this feedback to your team members, regardless of how poor the ratings are. Your objective is to help your team members improve their team performance so they can see themselves and their performance for what they are. This is the key to both success and respect.  

Case study of Bridgwater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund.

Ray Dalio, Bridgewater’s chairman, co-CEO, and co-CIO, has decided to build his company around a commitment to “radical transparency.” His belief, explained in his book Principles, in which he lays out 210 prescriptions for work and life, is that the way to be successful is to see and engage with the world as it truly is, no matter how positive or negative these realities are. No hierarchy or office politics should prevent anyone, no matter their level in the company. His commitment to radical transparency is total and without irony.


The truth; People need attention (Because we all want to be seen for who we are at our best)

The researchers at the Gallup Organization conducted a study on workplace engagement, focusing on American workers’ strengths and weaknesses. They found that if managers did not pay attention to these aspects, team engagement would decrease. Negative feedback was found to be forty times more effective than ignoring people. However, positive feedback, which focused on employees’ strengths and most powerful aspects, increased engagement to sixty to one. This suggests that positive feedback is thirty times more powerful than negative feedback in creating high performance on a team. The study suggests that people need attention, not feedback, and that providing it can increase engagement and productivity.

Lie #6 People can reliably rate other people

Most of our work experiences are influenced or seen via that lie, including how we are hired, promoted, paid, developed, and what new possibilities we may be offered, as well as whether and how we are terminated.

Talent review

Talent reviews are crucial tools for businesses to manage their employees and retain their best employees. However, companies have implemented various methods to bring objectivity to the review process, but none of these methods work in the real world. Researchers have tested and retested people’s ability to rate others over the last forty years, concluding that people cannot reliably rate others on anything.

The Idiosyncratic Rater Effect, which is a unique tendency to do things regardless of whether they realize it or not, is the most important factor explaining the variation in people’s scores. This effect is not related to the rater’s unconscious bias for or against people of a certain gender, race, or age. When a rater rates two separate people, their ratting habit does not change, and their ratings remain roughly the same. This means that their ratings reveal more about them than their team members.

In conclusion, talent reviews are essential tools for businesses to manage their employees and retain their best employees. However, the Idiosyncratic Rater Effect suggests that people cannot reliably rate others on anything and that the majority of variation in people’s scores can be explained by the rater’s distinctive personality.

Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall argue that “rating tools are windows that allow us to see out to other people, but they’re really just mirrors, with each of us endlessly bouncing back at ourselves.”

Any tool that pretends to reveal who you are is false.

The truth: People can reliably rate their own experience. (Because that’s all we have)

When evaluating a team member’s growth potential, your rating is unreliable as it is based on your personal response to them. However, when assessing a team member’s performance, your response is reliable as it quantifies your personal response to them. The question “Do you turn to this team member when you want extraordinary results?” is more reliable as it asks whether you feel confident enough to turn to them when needed. There is no right or wrong answer, only your feelings about what you would or would not do with them. To measure knowledge-worker performance, we should focus on accurately measuring and acting on specific elements of performance. In a talent review meeting, we want the data to accurately reflect how your team leader feels about you as an employee.

Lie #7 People have potential

Jack and Jill are both performing well today, but it’s unclear whether they have more potential than each other. If Jill is struggling in her current role, you may believe she has the potential to excel elsewhere. However, measuring her potential requires projecting into a world that you know much less about. Your assessment of her potential, or how much value she will contribute to the company in the future, will shape her destiny in various practical ways. This is a burden to bear. The IQ test has been used to predict educational and career success for decades, but it is only a test score and not a predictor of success. There is no such thing as “potential,” as it only indicates that we can learn and grow. Labelling someone as hi-po or lo-po is deeply immoral, horrible, and ineffective. 

There is no such thing as “potential.” To say that we have potential simply indicates that we can learn and grow, but it doesn’t tell us where or under what conditions we are able to learn and thrive. Potential is a fallacy, and treating individuals differently based on their potential is wrong. Labelling someone as hi-po or lo-po is deeply immoral, horrible, and ineffective. To embrace your company’s need to get the best out of each employee while avoiding dividing employees into artificial groups like hi-po’s and lo-po’s, you must recognize that there is no such thing as “potential.” Instead, focus on recognizing and valuing each individual’s unique strengths and abilities, rather than dividing them into artificial groups.

The truth: People have momentum (Because we all move through the world differently)

In a scenario where an employee expresses their love for their current job but wishes to grow and stay challenged, a team leader should ask two discrete sets of questions. The first question will focus on the employee’s personality traits, what they enjoy most about their job, and what they might want to pursue as a project manager. The second set of questions will explore the employee’s journey through the world and the lessons they have learned. This will help the team leader understand their performance, talents, and whether they have completed their project management certificate. The measurable and definable concept of momentum is crucial in this process. As a team leader, discussing the employee’s momentum helps them understand their current state and potential paths for growth. This approach also helps employees understand themselves, encouraging them to consider their current position as a unique human being moving purposefully through the world.

Lie #8: work-life balance matters most

“Do what you love, and you will never work a day in your life again”, for some people, it makes perfect sense, the lucky ones! But for others, it makes their hearts sink.

Work can be hard. So can life. And there’s too much of both, too much of the time. If balancing everything out isn’t the answer, then what is?

We need a new way of thinking. About work. About life.

The truth: Love-in-work matters most. (Because we all move through the world differently)

It is a skill of finding love in what you do, rather simply “doing what you love”.

As the authors noted, Most organisation shy away from the word love, preferring more business-appropriate terms such as committed or motivated or discretionary effort. But in the real world we have to engage with what really is, not some watered-down version of how we ‘d like people to be or to feel.”

A company, if it is careless, can crush your spirit, can diminish, or ignore your love-in-work. Only you can bring love into your love at work,

The big question is how to make it happen?

Select a regular week at work and make a list of activities that you love. Think of these activities as your “red threads”, your strengths. When you can deliberately weave your red threads throughout the fabric of your work, you’ll feel stronger, perform better, and bounce back faster. The data show this productivity would be healthy – underpinned by resilience and fulfillment.

Lie #9 Leadership is a thing

Leadership is a widely discussed issue in the workplace, with many agreeing that certain individuals possess a distinct, consistent, and meaningful attribute. These characteristics go beyond technical skills and transcend interpersonal skills, making a leader. To be a leader, one must possess these long-limbed characteristics, including authenticity and vulnerability. However, the theory-world view of leadership may be misinterpreted, as the ability to lead is rare in the real world, and leaders often have weaknesses and an incomplete skill set. To be truly effective, leaders must be authentic and willing to be imperfect in public, let go of the need to be right, and be the brightest person in the room.

The truth: We follow spikes. (Because spikes bring us certainty)

This is the true lesson in leading from the real world: a leader is someone who has followers, plain and simple.

The only factor that determines if someone is leading is whether anyone else is following. More specifically, we follow leaders who connect us to a mission we believe in, clarify what is expected of us, surround us with people who define excellence in the same way we do, value us for our strengths, show us that our teammates will always be there for us, diligently replay our winning plays, challenge us to keep getting better, and give us hope for the future.

In the real world, leadership can mean a variety of things. Your challenge as a leader is not to try to acquire the entire set of abstract leader competencies; you will fail because you will fall at the first hurdle of authenticity. Instead, your task is to discover and perfect your own unique approach to developing these eight emotional outcomes in your team.

Add Comment

Grow and Convert Leadership and Innovation

Kannen Parmanum

I have been interested in the ever-evolving thought leadership space for most of my life; this enthusiasm has led me to research new techniques and trends with practical applications while also sharing book reviews based on what these books taught me.

On a personal note, I enjoy reading books on philosophy and astrophysics, which provide me with valuable creative insights into problem-solving techniques.

My ambition is focused on making strong, impactful contributions to high-performing teams.

We have succeeded if we can be leaders of information that could lead to a solution.

Get in touch

Verified by MonsterInsights