Quick … what’s the single key difference between checkers and chess? Both have two players, alternating moves, the same board and both need advanced strategic thinking … now if you are already saying, “Hey I know, it’s obvious,” then, according to Marcus Buckingham, author of The One Thing You Need to Know, you have an innate gift that would propel you naturally into highly effective management. In typical Buckingham style, he hacks away all the surrounding stuff to bore down to that one thing that is at the heart of a great manager, leader or sustained individual success. Fast reading, filled with stories and backed with the credibility of Gallup Organization research, this book convincingly unearths a core principle at the heart of each of these three fundamental arenas of effective organizational administration.

So what’s the answer? I hate to tell you because the book is so rich in substance that giving only the conclusions seems to short-change the author’s giftedness. But since this is a book review, here it is … in chess the pieces have different moves! The great managers of today know one thing … “How to Discover What is Unique About Each Person and Capitalize on It.” Building organizations around the unique strengths and giftedness of each individual is the best manager’s greatest tool.

Want to get to the core of leadership? The one thing a leader must do is the opposite of what a manager must do … “Discover What Is Universal and Capitalize on It.” Anthropologists have concluded that all cultures have five human universals. Unfairly distilling them into a list they would be: the need for security, for clarity, for authority and for respect. The leader’s job must in some way lean into each of these organizational needs. However, at the heart of it, the one thing a leader must address is the need for clarity above all else. Understanding how this fleshes out through asking the question “who do we serve?” is worth the price of the whole book on its own.

Want to understand how to have sustained “success?” Success here is defined as making the greatest possible impact over the longest period of time. Then you must be a twenty percenter! A what? According to Gallop research, only 20% of people report that they are in a role where they have a chance to do what they do best every day. Are you a twenty percenter? If not, the one thing you need to know is simply “Discover What You Don’t Like Doing and Stop Doing It.” Yikes! I love that answer and I hate that answer all at the same time. It’s too simple on the surface and too difficult to accomplish! But the author doesn’t leave you wondering; he deals directly with the common contenders for getting at the answer and, not surprisingly, concludes that understanding your natural strengths (his second book) is the ONE thing that will allow you to actually become a twenty percenter.

Buckingham has a unique gift to see through the haze, challenge the conventional and end with conclusions that are immediately convincing because they are clear, simple, logical and true. They really appeal to an “Administrator!” I loved his first book when it hit the market and I walked around my office yelling, “Finally, somebody got it right!” First, Break all the Rules sold 1.6 million copies; however, he is probably best known for his second book, Now, Discover Your Strengths, which set the foundation for hiring and management practices in some of today’s best companies and churches. He was a highlight for me when I heard him at the Catalyst Conference in 2006. The One Thing You Need to Know does not disappoint in providing yet another layer on his well-proven principles—building people and organizations around their natural (God-given) talents and strengths, while wrapping the concepts of all three books into this third culminating work.

Whether you want to hone your management skills, grasp one additional principle to lead well, or simply want to be sure you can sustain effectiveness over the long term, a full read of this book is well worth your time.