Recently my wife and I finished watching the HBO special “John Adams”. Throughout the series two things struck a powerful cord in me.

First, how lucky we were as Americans that with no long, indigenous national history or established political culture to guide the formation of a post colonial government, that we had individuals of such intelligence, learning, and foresight to craft a governmental structure and constitution that has served us so well for over two hundred years.

Second, and of equal importance in my view, despite the intense rivalries and bitter philosophical disagreements that often divided our founders, they were able to find enough “common ground” on the critical issues upon which the launch of a new nation depended.

For the past two decades in our national political and economic discourse, I have sadly witnessed the slow growth of a bitter, polarizing, angry us vs. them attitude. This attitude often translates into an “I’m right and your wrong, so it’s my way or no way” response on matters of significant import to all of us . Such thinking leaves little room for common ground and little room for real progress on pressing national matters.

I have also seen the same rigid thinking among many managers who find it difficult to conceive of a better way than their own to get a job done. It is one thing to believe yours is the best approach; quite another to insist that all others are wrong. The “do it, and do it my way” managers rarely achieve much long term success. They certainly achieve little in the way of subordinate loyalty and trust.

As a manager, I believe the most important common ground you should try to establish with your subordinates is agreement on goals and outcomes, not the means for achieving them. Not that reaching agreement on outcomes is always that easy. But the effort is where the bond of trust can be forged between a supervisor and employees; a bond that is then reinforced when the supervisor allows subordinates the latitude to pursue those outcomes in ways best suited to their individual talents and preferred working styles. Beyond extremely aberrant approaches, there are always many roads to most destinations. The key is the getting there.

A decade after it was published, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman’s “First Break All The Rules” remains a management best seller and for good reason in my view. Based on roughly 80,000 interviews by the Gallup organization, the book’s conclusions regarding what makes great managers remain “spot on” advice. Chapter four “Defining the Right Outcomes” in particular, should provide those of you interested with plenty of hints for finding and exploiting common ground with those you manage.

Terry Joseph Busch

Amazon Link to “First Break All The Rules”:


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Categories: Exercising Responsibility, Managing & Leading

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