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Nine Lies About Work - Book summary

Have you ever stopped to consider if the “truths” that you’ve taken for granted about work or the workplace are actually valid? In this book, Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall show why/how many of the organizational systems and practices that we’ve taken for granted are actually be built on flawed beliefs and assumptions. By rethinking the way people are hired, trained, rewarded and promoted, leaders can bring out the best in each team member, improve engagement and results for both the employees and their organization. In this free Nine Lies about Work summary, we’ll briefly outline the 9 lies and truths about work, and the implications for you as a leader and/or employee.

Nine Lies about Work: Background

Ashley Goodall Goodall is Cisco’s head of Leadership and Team Intelligence, while Marcus Buckingham is the head of People and Performance Research at the ADP Research Institute. They decided to combine their research and experience to uncover the underlying sources of frustration and unhappiness at work, leading to the findings in this book.

As part of their research, the authors interviewed the top and bottom performers in various organizations. They found 8 conditions associated with the most engaged and productive team members. These can in turn be broken down into 2 categories:

  • The “Best of WE” statements describe the interactions and communal experience at a team or company level:
    (i) In my team, I am surrounded by people who share my values.
    (ii) My teammates have my back.
    (iii) I am really enthusiastic about the mission of my company.
    (iv) I have great confidence in my company’s future.
  • The “Best of ME” statements describe a member’s personal work experience and engagement.
    (i) At work, I clearly understand what is expected of me.
    (ii) I have the chance to use my strengths every day at work.
    (iii) I know I will be recognized for excellent work.
    (iv) In my work, I am always challenged to grow.

Based on the research data, Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall debunked 9 common myths about people, work, and leadership. They recommend how “freethinking leaders” can use the new insights to challenge conventional wisdom and build high-performing teams with greater engagement and fulfillment.

The Nine Lies & Truths About Work

Here are the 9 lies about work (and the truths behind them):

Nine Lies About Work Summary - 9 lies overview

1. Teams Matter More than Companies

People care which company they join, and will often research a company extensively before applying for or accepting a job. However, once they’ve joined the company, what matters most is which team they’re on.

Much of human society is built on collective belief. Concepts like money, stock markets, and companies are “real” only because we jointly believe in them. Likewise, your work experience is shaped by your work culture and shared meaning. Your organization’s culture affects you in at least 3 ways:

  • Your sense of identity is linked to your tribe’s. Working for Apple, Deloitte or McDonalds sends different signals about who you are and what you stand for.
  • It affects your definition of success, e.g. to develop the coolest technology or solve the world’s biggest problems.
  • The cultural buzzwords tell you the direction in which the leaders wish to steer the company, e.g. to become more “feedback-oriented” or “performance-based”.

When we research a company from the outside, we can only see the cultural plumage, e.g. the people seem cool or wear designer suits. Yet, the content and nature of your work are defined by your local experiences, i.e. your daily interactions with your immediate team-mates and leader(s).

  • People working on a team tend to feel more engaged, and those who trust their team leaders are 12x more likely to be fully engaged at work. So, the next time you’re researching a company, don’t bother to ask about its culture. Instead, ask what it does to build great teams.
  • As a leader, you have a huge impact on your team:
    (i) Find out where your team members stand in relation to the 8 statements above.
    (ii) Improve work satisfaction by addressing the 2 local levels of “we experiences” and “me experiences”. These are elaborated in the in the remaining 8 truths below.

Do get the complete version of our Nine Lies About Work summary for more details on the remaining 8 lies about work. Meanwhile, here’s a brief outline.

2. Intelligence Trumps the Best Plan

Instead of sticking to a rigid plan (which can quickly become obsolete), it’s much better to rely on detailed, real-time inputs from your team members. Find out how to develop an intelligence system to deal with real-time issues and triumph despite uncertainties.

3. Cascade Meaning, Not Goals

Goals are often more of a constraint than a performance motivator [we explain why in our full Nine Lies About Work summary]. The best team leaders don’t cascade goals or use them as a control mechanism. Instead, they cascade meaning.  Learn how you, too, can cascade meaning widely, deeply and precisely within your organization.

4. The Best People are Spiky, Not Well-Rounded

Many organizations use competency models to define the qualities for an ideal candidate. These are then used as a basis for hiring, training and performance evaluation. What if this approach is fundamentally flawed, and competency models don’t actually work? Find out why, and learn the 3 strategies that great leaders use to build great teams.

5. People Need Attention, Not Feedback

We assume that frequent, candid feedback is necessary for improvement. Again, that’s not true. In our full Nine Lies about Work summary, we explain (i) why most feedback is biased, ineffective, and can even demotivate people and worsen performance, and (ii) how you can pay attention to what’s right and build on it instead.

6. We can Reliably Rate Our Own Experiences, But Not Other People

Did you know that your work rating reflects more about your manager’s personality or rating patterns than it does about you or your work? And people are simply unable to rate others accurately?  In our full Nine Lies about Work Summary, we’ll explain the specific ways to filter out the good data from the bad ones, and develop evaluations that are actually reliable, valid and reflective of real-life variability.

7. People have Momentum, Not Potential

Our career progress is often pegged to our “potential” (as evaluated by our managers). Unfortunately, this word is actually meaningless, since every human being has potential and it doesn’t predict someone’s performance at all. It’s much better to establish someone’s momentum, i.e. how and how fast they’re moving through the world.  In our full 15-page summary, we’ll explain the 2 sets of data which are more meaningful, concrete and actually within people’s control.

8. What Matters is Love-in-Work, Not Work-Life Balance

“Work-life balance” is yet another common but flawed concept about the workplace. In reality, what we’re truly wrestling with isn’t work vs life, but things we love vs loathe. If you want to express yourself fully and thrive in your most elevated state (and help your team to do so), you need “love-in-work”. Find out how to do so with the “20% strategy” from our full book summary.

9. Great Leadership isn’t a Thing with Fixed Traits

Leadership isn’t a “thing” that can be created by fulfilling a list of traits or criteria. The most respected leaders in history (e.g. Martin Luther King, Eleanor Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy) don’t share a fixed set of leadership qualities. People follow them because of their “spikes”, or the 1-2 distinct strengths which they use to make a huge impact in a specific area.

Getting the Most from Nine Lies about Work

In this article, we’ve briefly outlined some of the key insights and strategies you can use to achieve desired change. For more examples, details, and actionable tips to apply these strategies, do get our complete book summary bundle which includes an infographic, 15-page text summary, and a 27-minute audio summary.
Nine Lies About Work summary - book summary bundle

This is an easy-to-read book written in a conversational style. The authors present a mix of their own research findings, empirical studies, real-world examples and anecdotes to illustrate the 9 lies and truths about work. The book includes 2 appendices with additional information on the 2018 ADP Research Institute study, and insights from Cisco’s internal studies. Do get a copy of the book for the full details, or visit for more information.

[Read more about unlocking your strengths at work with our free summary of Go Put Your Strengths to Work.]

About the Authors of Nine Lies about Work

Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World is written by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall.

Marcus Buckingham is a BritishAmerican author, researcher, speaker and business consultant. He graduated from Cambridge University and spent 17 years with the Gallup Organization conducting research into workplace performance. In 2006, he started The Marcus Buckingham Company (TMBC) which created various management training programs and tools. TMBC was acquired by ADP, LLC in 2017.

Ashley Goodall is the Senior Vice President of Methods and Intelligence at Cisco. As an executive, author and leadership expert, he has spent his career exploring ways to help individuals and teams to thrive.

Nine Lies about Work Quotes

“While people might care which company they join… once there, people care which team they’re on.”

“In the intelligence business, frequency is king.”

“Any goal imposed upon you from above is an un-goal.”

“As a leader, you are trying to unlock the judgment, the choices, the insight, and the creativity of your people.”

“People don’t need to be told what to do; they want to be told why.”

“There is no one-size fits-all when it comes to human beings; and there is no one-size fits-all when it comes to great performance.”

“Your best work is always joyful work.”

Click here to download the Nine Lies about Work summary & infographic

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