Leadership talent does not grow on trees

Of course everyone knows that ‘leadership talent does not grow on trees’. So how do you go about building a team with significant potential to lead and fill the needs of the organisation. The planning for growing your talent is not just for what your organisation needs today but importantly for what the organisation is going to need in the next 3 to 5 years. In this long read Crispin Blackall has researched what a range of thought leaders, subject matter experts, consultants, business journalists and human resources professionals have to say on how an organisation should build a sustainable talent pipeline.

You have heard about the war for talent, but on the other hand you know that there is a pandemic going on, which has led to a global recession and this has meant that lots of great talent is currently looking for work. So as a savvy and effective leader what should you do?

McKinsey recently published an article on addressing the biases that block your company from becoming a ‘Talent first organisation’. They point out there are three biases that are common.

  1. The “I know it when I see it” bias – many organisation still stick with unstructured ‘gut feel’ as a way to identify and to predict talent.
  2. The “talent of the top few” bias – focusing solely on the top management of the hierarchy, which overlooks roles critical for driving the strategic agenda but may be further down the organisation.
  3. The “one size fits all” bias – in the past talent was focused on aligned subject matter expertise being the right type. Now with significant transformation of industries, organisations need a creative talent strategy that identifies internal and external talent over multiple years.

“McKinsey’s Global Institute estimates that for as much as 60 percent of occupations, at least one-third of the activities could be automated by 2030. The implication being a massive, ongoing modification of jobs and role requirements across nearly all occupations.”

by Ruth Imose, Dinora Fitzgerald Dobru and Gunnar Schrah published 26th May 2020 (link to original article here)

As a effective leader you are not only directing work and empowering your team to succeed.  You are constantly assessing the people you lead, not just their performance but their talent and potential as future leaders. But you can’t just assess the potential and leave them. Talent management is cultivating your future leaders help them to develop and grow new skills and experience.

Leadership talent does not grow on trees

The ability to see talent before others see it (internally and externally), unlock human potential, and find not just the best employee for each role, but also the best role for each employee, is crucial to running a topnotch team. In short, great managers are also great talent agents.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Jonathan Kirschner  ‘How the Best Managers Identify and Develop Talent’ 9th January 2020

Building a pipeline of future leaders and talent does require a different mindset, you need to think beyond the current horizon and your current organisational requirements. Leaders with a multi horizon workforce plan consider how to shape the skills and experience that you are going to need in the years to come by identifying developing and recruiting emerging talent today to meet the needs of tomorrow. A bit like compound interest you are investing now for future returns.

Employees have become a very significant part of the value attributable to companies. Today’s talent has more opportunities and lower switching costs than ever before.   So you have to demonstrate that you have a plan for them and that you are investing in their future or they may pick up and take that future somewhere else.

“a company’s ability to attract, retain and engage talent has gone from nice to necessary. To do this effectively, companies will have to throw out simplistic notions and measures of employee satisfaction and step up to understanding and building superior employee value propositions.”

J. Stewart Black and Manjith Manohar with Susan Stehli IMD, The war for leadership talent: Creating a superior employee value proposition.  October 2013

BCG have done some analysis on organisations with very high levels of talent (they use the term ‘talent magnets’ to describe these companies) effects the growth and profit for those organisations. They identified that there is tangible value in leadership and talent excellence and that leaders need to focus on recruiting, retaining, as well as maintaining a robust pipeline of strong leaders and talent. That talent needs to drive strategic objectives and ensure that workforces have the necessary skills and capabilities to achieve business impact.

Source: https://www.bcg.com/en-au/capabilities/people-organization/leadership-talent

There are widely recognised tools and methodologies for identifying High Potential Employees, Kaiser, Adler and Chamorro-Premuzic wrote about ‘What Science Says About Identifying High Potential Employees for HBR in 2017, they explains that there are three ‘markers’ for high potential, which are ability, social skills and drive.   Your ability at an executive level is based on strategic thinking, ability to adapt an organisation for the future, develop vision and to have an entrepreneurial mindset.  Social skills to manage pressure, to act with dignity and integrity and be able to deal constructively with adversity.  Drive is the motivation and ambition that an individual has, how hard they work, the level of commitment and eagerness to take on more responsibilities. (Source: Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic , Seymour Adler and Robert B. (Rob) Kaiser and the Article Link here)

Hogan is a global widely recognised organisation that many companies turn towards in order to measure high potential talent, there are nine areas of competency that Hogan HiPO Model assesses and measures. The intent is to identify and close the skills gap between what your organisation requires in a leader and what is in your talent pipeline. The nine areas are broken down to three themes Leadership Foundations, Leadership Emergence and Leadership Effectiveness:

Source: https://www.hoganhipo.com
  • Leadership Foundations :
    • Following Process,
    • Thinking Broadly,
    • Getting Along
  • Leadership Emergence: 
    • Standing Out,
    • Influencing Others,
    • Building Connections
  • Leadership Effectiveness: 
    • Leading the Business,
    • Managing Resources,
    • Leading people

How to build talent

Building Talent: Proven ways to develop your team starts by having some faith in them to learn and grow, look for opportunities to effectively delegate and not just tasks.  Your direct reports need to understand what it means to step up into your role, so no matter if you have delegated for them to lead a project or or to step up and look after your role while you are on leave, you need to give them the whole role.  That might mean access to your calendar, email and running the 1:1 sessions if they are acting in your role or it might mean making them the project leader and taking direction from them while in the context of the project (servant leadership). Build sustainable processes to continue to support development, make it part of the operational rhythm that is tracked and reported on.

Coaching: Talent needs to be coached, growing your future leaders by taking the time to help them understand exactly how you are addressing the nine areas as you lead and what you have learned in your career.  Build the connection and understand what the employee’s career aspirations are and then you can provide further opportunities to learn, lead and grow. Reinforce the value of learning, you can work with your employees to help them explore their personal goals and what they feel their personal gaps are.

Lead by Example: Remember to walk the talk, as a leader you are always on show.  You need to act as a role model because you are, your team look to you for what is acceptable behaviour, how to speak, how collaborate, how to engage and how to lead.  Be transparent about your own need to learn and develop. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable, leaders are never more powerful than when they are demonstrating that they are learning too.

“42% of new managers develop their management style by observing a previous leader”


Addressing what gets in the way of developing talent

Cori Hill co-author of ‘Developing Leaders and Organisations Through Action Learning’ was interviewed Drew Hansen in Forbes Magazine about the why Senior Leaders find it hard to develop their employees.   She stated that there were three interrelated issues that often led the development of talent in the team becoming a lower priority, these were:

Time: Leaders frequently deal with crises and this eats time.  That time would have been used in the long term investment in people.

Focus on Visible Skills: As leaders rise they focus on the activities that are often seen as core to senior executive roles; strategic thinking, business acumen, effective P&L management but less on skills like building talent as its less visible and often gets less recognition.

Lack of Development Culture: Even the best coaching leaders tend to prefer developing one on one (probably because it tends to be more intrinsically fulfilling) but the bigger impact is when leaders also work on organisational coaching and developing the group culture.

So what is the takeaway?

We know that Leadership talent does not grow on trees, as leaders we all need to make sure we have a clear workforce plan for the talent we need, not just now but into the future.  You need to have a consistent way to assess and measure what you define as talent and ensure that it embodies the right set of skills required for your organisations future. Building your organisational bench strength comes from making time for effective talent planning and ensuring it is key performance indicator for leadership at all levels.

Finally consider your organisation culture is it reflective of your company values and does it align to build talent and strength for the future because if it doesn’t then perhaps there is work to do.

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