1st Friday Favorite Guru: Robert F. Mager

This month we start on the First Friday of December 2012 with another of my favorite gurus…

Robert F. Mager

Or – Bob Mager


I did not have a personal or professional relationship with Bob until many years after he retired. I had met him, and his wife Eileen, at many NSPI Conferences back in the 1980s and early 1990s – but we became email buddies doing NSPI/ISPI business much later. Now he sends me signed copies of his latest books, mostly fiction. I have posted on some of those – and the latest is here.

Then there was the very recent update to his 1986 “How To Write a Book Book” that I also posted on last week – here.

My first exposure to Bob Mager – was through his writings, in particular, this book…

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In my first job in ISD right out of college, Kansas University, at the Training Services Department of Wickes Lumber in Saginaw Michigan I went to work alongside Geary Rummler’s brother-in-law, and two people who had worked with Geary’s brother, Rick (at Blue Cross Blue Shield in Detroit). They had me read Tom Gilbert’s “Human Competence” – but before that, they had me read “Analyzing Performance Problems.”

I was so impressed with this book, and the kind of work I was getting into, that I bought 4 copies of that book and sent them to my best friends from college, who responded with that day’s equivalent of “What the Heck?”

Here is a post from back in 2008 on this – here.

From there I read many of his other books – the books that today are part of the Mager 6 Pack – see these at Amazon – here.

I also attended all of Bob’s sessions at NSPI (today ISPI) that I could.

I studied his and Peter Pipe’s  diagnostic flow chart – from that book…


One of the Many Things I Learned From Bob Mager

I learned that most of the time – Training isn’t the solution to a Performance Problem. I learned that in 1979. It’s still true today.

I learned back then to say: “If you held a gun to their head and they could now do it, you don’t have a knowledge/skills problem, you have a motivation problem.”

Today I re-phrase that to: “If you figuratively held a gun to their head and they could now do it, you don’t have a knowledge/skills problem, you have a motivation problem.”

Times change, and so do sensitivities. But not the sentiment.

Today I have my own way of saying this, many ways in fact, but this post is not about me.

What I Also Learned From Bob

To be generous with one’s time and take the time to coach and counsel others. I got that experience working with him on various ISPI activities, including most recently in preparation for the ISPI 50th Anniversary Conference. And colleagues who had worked with Bob will tell those stories and their strong feeling for Bob – including this story from my 4 minute video of Mark Laurin – here.
Bob had and has a great sense of humor – and it is on full display in his 1999, ISPI banquet speech, titled: “The Perfect Banquet Speech” – which he graciously allowed me to convert from VHS and then post online a couple of years back – for all to enjoy.
I love the part where Bob, the ventriloquist, is on stage with his Thiagi doll, and Thiagi.
Maybe you had to have been there – and I was.

Some Great Resources for You

Bob has over a dozen books available via Amazon – see the list – here.

If you have any videos, or audios (convert those conference cassettes please) – please share any available links with us in the comments section of this post.


My Favorite Memories of Bob

The last time I saw and spoke to Bob was back at the 2000 ISPI Conference, where as a Director on the Board, I had the assignment, the pleasure, of introducing Bob’s wife Eileen Mager for an award. So I saw him and recall his light hearted nature, and big smile.
Recently – he helped me with the ISPI tribute to his good buddy, Joe Harless, who passed away this past October. Joe had told me a year or so ago that he and Bob talked about once a month. Bob relates a funny story – that Joe himself had shared with me back in 2008. Here is that tribute – in PDF form: ISPI PIJ Tribute to Joe Harless – Nov-Dec 2012 – I’ll let you read what Bob wrote for yourself.
Here in the photo below, is Bob – the tall guy – with – from the left, Harold Stolovitch, Seth Liebler, Erika Keeps, Bob, Eileen Mager and Kathleen Whiteside.

Please Share Your Stories

If Bob has been a valuable influence and/or resource for you – please share your stories about that in the comments section below. And thank you for sharing!


My Other Past Favorite Gurus for 2012

  • Joe H. Harless – November 2012 –here.
  • Thomas F. Gilbert – October 2012 –here.
  • Sivasailam Thiagarajan – September 2012 –here.
  • Rummler, Geary – August 2012 –here.
  • Brethower, Dale – July 2012 – here.

Coming up in January and February of  2013 will be Neil Rackham, and Margo Murray.

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14 comments on “1st Friday Favorite Guru: Robert F. Mager

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