After reading the book, First, Break all the Rules (FBATR), one could easily assume the proclivity to go out and do just as the book says; break all the rules. The introduction feeds this idea by saying great managers are revolutionaries (Buckingham & Coffman, 1999). In the reality of public and private organizations breaking all the rules would not be the right thing to do. FBATR focused primarily on leadership as one who must be able to select for talent, define right outcomes, focus on their follower’s strengths, and find the right fit. These concepts are profound but not revolutionary. Initially FBATR attracts the attention of the rebel in us all. The picture of Robin Hood righting the injustices of the big corporate sheriff seems right. The reader may at first get the impression that he or she can be the swash buckling leader coming in to set the captives free. Regrettably and appropriately, the leader must wake from the afternoon siesta and tread lightly. The manager can not come unadvisedly into an organization to upset the olive cart; especially if the stakeholders enjoy their olives. The title of this book seems to encourage leaders to break all the rules; however, the premise of the book is great leaders are those who simply know how and when to do the right thing. The book is not so much about breaking all the rules rather FBATR tries to release courageous people from the constraints that organizational bureaucracy brings.

Organizational Bureaucracy Changed the Rules

Many in business quickly come to realize that he who writes the check is very important to one’s well being. In the online article, the dangers of a compliant bureaucracy, Kenneth Davidson writes that in place of frank and fearless advice is a culture of compliance. When the organization says jump, the response of the bureaucracy is how high (Davidson, 2003)?” Rules that were first ordained to serve those in the company become the master to be served. As a result of fear of retribution, lack of ability, or sheer cowardice managers just go along with the bureaucracy. A tight control and command system can suck the life out of your organization (Freiberg, 2005). Buckingham and Coffman are simply reminding us of what many leader managers intrinsically know. Even in bureaucracies, leaders do the right thing and do not let the rules rule.

The Cure for the Common Bureaucracy

The belief that a cure for the bureaucracy is debatable; however, FBATR does provide a symbolic mountain adventure to offset some of the limitations organizations create. 12 questions early in the book form the best and simplest direction to lead. 12 practical queries geared to set the direction of a great manager. The answers are open ended giving each room for a personal and unique adventure. (1) Do I know what is expected of me at work, (2) Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work, (3) At work do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day, (4) In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work, (5) Does my supervisor or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person, (6) Is there someone at work who encourages my development, (7) At work do my opinions seem to count? (8) Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important, (9) Are my coworkers committed to doing quality work, (10) Do I have a best friend at work, (11) In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress, and (12) This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow (Buckingham & Coffman, 1999)? The climb up the mountain led by the preceding questions is a journey most great managers enjoy.

  • Base Camp: What do I get? At this level needs are basic. Questions 1 and 2 apply.

  • Camp 1: What do I give? The climb higher changes one’s point of view. One wants to know if they are any good at the job. Questions 3, 4, 5 and 6 apply

  • Camp 2: Do I belong here? You are strengthened by the difficult challenges faced during the constant climb. Questions 7, 8, 9, and 10 measure Camp 2

  • Camp 3: How can all involved grow? Buckingham writes that this is the most advanced stage of the climb. Improvement and growth are in demand. The leader wants progress to stimulate learning, growth, and innovation. Questions 11 and 12 apply.

  • The SUMMIT: If you can answer positively to all 12 questions you have reached the top, focus is clear, a sense of achievement is felt, and others are excited by the challenges at work (Buckingham & Coffman, 1999).

With any good thing dangers are present. The mountain climber because of rapid change can not remain at the summit long. Could those who stay to long at the summit be the same people who create the constraints of bureaucracy hoping to capture success in a bottle? Many managers can frequently be seduced by the idea that there is “one best way” and that it can be taught (Buckingham & Coffman, 1999, p112). Logic dictates that the set of rules that brought victory should be documented and reused. FBATR reminds us to enjoy the time at the summit but keep it moving and start all over again with new and more people. Any attempt to impose the “one best way” is doomed to fail (p.115). Allow the experience with imperfect people to serve not rule the future. Leadership must always lead.


Buckingham, M, & Coffman, C, (1999). First break all the rules. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Davidson, K., (2003). The dangers of a compliant bureaucracy, Retrieved November 7, 2007 from

Freiberg, K. F. (2005). Guts! Companies that blow the doors off business-as-usual. New York: Doubleday.

Leatherman, J. Howell, M., (2000) Leadership in the public arena, Kansas State University, Retrieved November

7, 2007 from

Rosenzweig P., (2008) why success formulas will never work…but consulting can add real value, Management

Consulting News, Retrieved November 5, 2008 from

Truskie, S.D., (2005) the private sector: leadership presence, Retrieved November 5, 2008 from

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