Everyone knows that for leaders, organizational success is largely dependent on the talent you have. However, few people actually take the time to consider the relationship between the leaders recruiting that talent and the talent itself.
The recruitment of top talent is not, in and of itself, a recipe for success. Your key talent needs to be expertly managed so that they can bring value and drive sustainable organizational success. And in many instances, the relationship between leader and top talent is complex and at times fraught with problems.
I have seen leaders recruit relentlessly and aimlessly, unsure about what they want. They are driven more by a fear of losing the war for talent. I have also seen some leaders afraid to recruit smart, talented people. They are concerned that the stronger talent will come in and make them look incompetent. In my experience, this is a faulty assumption and I learned it’s always better to surround yourself with the strongest talent you can find. Top talent will make you stronger. If they end up showing your incompetence or leadership gaps, then you have a different problem on your hands. It’s not them – it’s you.
Another interesting perspective for leaders on how to think about top talent comes from Dr. Sydney Finkelstein, director of the Tuck Centre for Leadership at Dartmouth College. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Dr. Finkelstein suggests that great leaders not only recruit great talent, they eventually encourage those people to leave and strike out on their own.
Dr. Finkelstein talked to leaders like fashion icon Ralph Lauren, billionaire hedge fund manager Julian Robertson and restaurateur Norman Brinker and found that all of them were unafraid to lose their best people. “On the contrary, most willingly unleashed their top performers onto the world, going out of their way to help them land outside opportunities.”
Furthermore, Dr. Finkelstein said these leaders found merit in not hoarding talent, “but by mastering the flow of talent through their organizations.”
This article raises a number of important issues about how leaders and organizations need to manage talent to ensure they are getting maximum value from some of their highest performing employees.
Far too often, I have seen leaders be negligent with their talent. They either neglect them by failing to provide guidance and expectations, or they strangle their best people by preventing them from taking on more responsibility. I have even seen the talent planning process in organizations grind to a halt because leaders hoard talent, and refuse to give up their best people for new roles in the company.
In my experience, I have learned that when you are leading a really talented person, you can’t hold them down. You have to let them grow and find success on their own terms. If they want to try something new within your organization, help them obtain that opportunity. If you sense that they can no longer grow within the confines of your organization, encourage them to find outside opportunities and do what you can to help them get there.
If you don’t help your talent grow, you will either stunt their growth as potential leaders, or they will eventually leave of their own volition with a very sour view of your leadership and organization.
What’s your experience in leading top talent?
This week’s gut check question ask: Do you have the courage to unleash your best talent to the world?