The Four Roles of a Manager

In the following paragraphs, I present four core activities that will significantly increase your change of having a successful team.

When you transition to a people manager role, the first thing you need to realize is that from this moment, the main way for you to achieve success is through the success of the individuals in your team. In the following paragraphs, I present four core activities that will significantly increase your change of having a successful team.

While the book “First, Break All the Rules” refer to these four key tasks with different terms, for the sake of memorization I’ve defined them as: Selection, Expectations, Engagement, Development, or SEED for short.

Before we dive into these activities, we need to set common ground for understanding what defines each person’s uniqueness.

Skills, Knowledge, and Talents

There are three distinct elements of someone’s performance: skills, knowledge, and talents. The first two can be easily taught, while talents cannot.

Skills are the how-tos of a role They can be transferred from one team member to another. The best way to learn skills is normally through practice. For a baker, baking a chocolate cake is a skill. The steps to bake the cake could be documented in a recipe, and easily transferred to a new employee.

Knowledge are the things that you are aware of It considers both factual knowledge––things you know––and experiential knowledge––things you’ve learned along the way. Factual knowledge is normally easier to taught that experiential knowledge. Factual knowledge is the exact temperature of the oven needed to bake the chocolate cake, or the health regulations that the baker has to follow so they’re not threatening the health of their customers. Experiential knowledge is knowing the kind of movement that will give you the ideal texture on the cake topping while mixing the ingredients.

Talents are “recurrent patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied” (Buckingham, Coffman, 1999, p. 71). Early in life, our brain’s cells are rapidly creating thousands of new connections with each other. Some connections will grow stronger based on our genotype and external stimuli. By our early twenties, our brain has stablished certain thought patterns that define the way we act and think. From this point, our thoughts will be very likely to follow the path of less resistance in our brain. These are our talents. It doesn’t mean that in our adulthood we can’t reshape our brain through training and determination. However, the more you focus on trying to acquire new talents, the less time you spend mastering the ones you already have. If our baker from past examples is a creative person, they could very easily find ways of improving the recipe, or make the process more streamlined and deliver twice the cakes than their peers. Maybe their gift is the interpersonal talent, and they’re able to build great relationship with their customers, making them return each time, even though they don’t bake that well.

Talents can be broken down in three types: Striving, Thinking, and Relating.

Striving talents They explain the why of a person. What motivates and drives the person to get out of bed every day.

Thinking talents They explain the how of a person. How they think, weighs up alternatives, or make decisions.

Relating talents They explain the who of a person. Whom they trust or relate to. whom they confront, or whom they ignore.

At the end of this article, you can find some examples of talents.

With a brief overview of how the book roughly distills the way each person is defined, let’s jump into the four roles that each manager should focus on to get the best of their team.

Selection: Hiring the Right People

Without a doubt, the biggest challenge of hiring people is predicting their future success in the role. While it’s not my intention to oversimplify this topic, there are a few things that can be done to increase the chance of hiring the right people.

Job descriptions

The job description of a role should distinctly describe skills, knowledge and talents needed for the role. It should be clear for someone applying to a role the things they need to know or the skills they need to have, along with the capacities that they are expected to naturally posses––their talents. For example, for a Technical Support position, the primary talents are Service, Problem Solving, and Empathy. There are other talents that can be very useful, but they’re not mandatory. These additional talents are the ones that give you room as a hiring manager to design a diverse team. However, the foundational talents should always be present. Otherwise, if you hire someone that doesn’t have the right talents, they will not perform, and at the same they will be very miserable in the position, because they will be expected to behave in ways that are unnatural to the way their brain works.


At least one of your hiring interviews should be focused on talents, just like we interview for company values. Outline the talents that are necessary for the role, and ask for specific examples of how they’ve displayed those talents in the past. This is a great opportunity for both parties to realize if the position is a good fit for the candidate, and vice versa.

Expectations: Right Outcomes vs Right Steps

The best way to ensure that each person can apply their own style at work in a way that feels genuine for them, and that utilizes the best of their capabilities is to define the right outcomes, and not the right steps. You can’t expect to get the best of each employee if everything they do is defined in step-by-step procedures. This will get in the way of them using their own style to do their job.

On the other hand, there’s certain things that need definition of the right steps. For example, how an engineer submits a change to our Change Management System, or how a Support Engineer routes a ticket to our Sales team. However, managers should try to focus on outcomes as much as possible.

Engagement: Focus on Their Strengths

Great managers don’t try to make everyone well rounded. They focus on people’s strengths, and in being catalysts of improvement for those strengths. They understand how each team member fits into the team’s dynamics, and assign tasks based on each employee’s talents.

Talents become strengths only when they’re being utilized productively. At the same time, lack of talents only become weaknesses when they affect how someone performs their job. As a manager, you need to identify those non-talents, and help your team members build systems around those non-talents to avoid them from becoming weaknesses. For example, if a Salesperson is a great communicator, but their emails often look unprofessional because of typos, it may be because they lack attention to detail. In that case, their system could be to make sure to proofread twice, and always use a spellchecker before sending the email.

An activity that I’ve found very useful to get the talents conversation going, is the “Love and Loathe” list. You ask your team member to create a two columns list where they keep track of the daily activities they loved to do, and those that they didn’t love so much. In your 1-1 meetings, you discuss those, and try to dive deeper into why they think those things made it into the list.

You can also consider asking them to do talent/personality assessment that could help both of you understand better what motivates them, and how they think and act.

Development: Outlining the road ahead

Now that you understand better the way each of your employees think and what motivates them, you’re in a better position to guide them into what’s best for them and the company.

Career development is not only something to be discussed with high performant employees that have earned a promotion. It’s also a way to help less performant employees to find their true niche where they can be truly successful based on their talents and needs.

Something very important that conventional people management tends to forget is that it’s perfectly fine for people to feel happy about their current job and for them to want to stay at their current role. Do not push people into management as the only way for them to move forward. Build different paths of success for them, and make sure they end up in the right place, at the right time.

Although it may be surprising to you, managers are also human beings. And for this reason, they are also subject to be driven by specific thought patterns––talents. Make sure you actively introspect about yours, and that you use them to act as drivers of every initiative you execute. Do not believe that there’s a magic formula, or the right set of steps that will bring you to be the best manager in the world. What makes other people successful doesn’t necessarily apply to you in a verbatim fashion. Keep what works for you and your team, and discard the rest.

Ironically, when it comes to people management, the only valid generalization to make is that you can’t generalize what can make people successful.

Based on lessons learned from reading First, Break all the Rules

Appendix – Example of Talents

Striving Talents

  • Achiever: A drive that is internal, constant, and self-imposed
  • Kinesthetic: A need to expend physical energy
  • Stamina: Capacity for physical endurance
  • Competition: A need to gauge your success comparatively
  • Desire: A need to claim significance through independence, excellence, risk, and recognition
  • Competence: A need for expertise or mastery
  • Belief: A need to orient your life around certain prevailing values
  • Mission: A drive to put your beliefs into action
  • Service: A drive to be of service to others
  • Ethics: A clear understanding of right and wrong which guides your actions
  • Vision: A drive to paint value-based word pictures about the future

Thinking Talents

  • Focus: An ability to set goals and to use them every day to guide actions
  • Discipline: A need to impose structure onto life and work
  • Arranger: An ability to orchestrate
  • Work Orientation: A need to mentally rehearse and review
  • Gestalt: A need to see order and accuracy
  • Responsibility: A need to assume personal accountability for your work
  • Concept: An ability to develop a framework by which to make sense of things
  • Performance Orientation: A need to be objective and to measure performance
  • Strategic Thinking: An ability to play out alternative scenarios in the future
  • Business Thinking: The financial application of the strategic thinking talent
  • Problem Solving: An ability to think things through with incomplete data
  • Formulation: An ability to find coherent patterns within incoherent data sets
  • Numerical: An affinity for numbers
  • Creativity: An ability to break existing configurations in favor of more effective/appealing ones

Relating Talents

  • Woo: A need to gain the approval of others
  • Empathy: An ability to identify the feelings and perspectives of others
  • Relator: A need to build bonds that last
  • Multirelator: An ability to build an extensive network of acquaintances
  • Interpersonal: An ability to purposely capitalize upon relationships
  • Individualized Perception: An awareness of and attentiveness to individual differences
  • Developer: A need to invest in others and to derive satisfaction in so doing
  • Stimulator: An ability to create enthusiasm and drama
  • Team: A need to build feelings of mutual support
  • Positivity: A need to look on the bright side
  • Persuasion: An ability to persuade others logically
  • Command: An ability to take charge
  • Activator: An impatience to move others to action
  • Courage: An ability to use emotion to overcome resistance

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