Talent based leadership

Talent based leadership

(by André Blom, CEO TMA International, 2016) Leadership has been a topic since the dawn of days. Apparently humanity cannot exist without. In the earliest day people would bond and connect in order to survive to ensure daily food, safety and welfare to a certain extent. As there is a commonality of interest and urgency to bound, it’s inevitable that decisions has to be made, tasks, obligations and responsibility has to be framed, assigned and structured. ‘We’ started with a democratic form of discussing in a circle where all had an equal voice. It was however very practical if one with authority would take the lead. Various forms of this frame has lasted for many centuries. It was only since the industrial revolution where scientific management came in place. ‘We’ were convinced that cutting the head (the thinkers, manager) form the body (the workers) would work best. We have witnessed some changes since the last 200 year in terms of a strong strict hierarchy into a matrix or a project organization or combinations up to ‘liquid’ and anarchistic organizational models. But one aspect did not change: the need for good leadership. Of course we all know about situational leadership, servant leadership, participatory leadership, transformational leadership ......... and what comes next? Does it really work at the era we are in now?

As we are happy to acknowledge that we are unique as individuals, that we all are blessed with talents, that we are no robots. It’s puzzling me how it is possible and accepted that we then embrace a scientific leadership model that has to fit as one for all?

When I reflect my leadership skills, experiences and code of conduct on my family, having a great team of beautiful bright young lady being the mother of my 3 daughters (of course beautiful and brilliant in their own way) I stand no chance of what so ever to conduct any of the above mentioned leadership styles. In fact I should not mix up authority, responsibility and obligations with leadership; I should not even in the slightest way think that I could take decisions without their consent. I can forget the idea of taking away their mandates, No way Daddy, and I know that it will back fire on me if I insist anyway. (Luckily my youngest is 10 months old and she is still under my control!) If one of them feels comfortable in a specific area they will take the lead, they will be the ‘integrator’ no matter if daddy feels the need to take the leading position. No, the only leadership credits I am enjoying (and have to earn all the time) are based upon my contribution, engagement and presence in doing it together. I have to acknowledge their talents and relay on them accordingly. I have to ask and listen actively for their needs and challenges. If I am willing to share my knowledge, experience and wisdom I might get a leadership position. But mind you, when I am overruling and ignoring their talents or contribution, bye bye mr leader! I will just end up as a provider.

Perhaps this is just a general generation issue between parents and children? Is there a similar manifestation in our business where we are working with 4 generations? Lets identify some characteristics:

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It’s obvious that working with 4 generations, all with a different look and expectation towards leadership is no sinecure. How can you keep your scientific leadership style & protocols congruent and in tact for all?

What about the impact of globalization where different cultures are collaborating? How does that impact on Leadership? Everybody ticks in his her own way based on his or her own values, paradigms and cultural inheritance?

Let’s take the impact and role of leadership & management nowadays into consideration. Based on my personal experiences and information from different surveys, I have come across many cases where ‘talents’ are softly killed by their leaders and managers in spite of best intentions.

The chain of flaws starts with the selection of talents. What or who is considered to be a talent? Is it the outperformer, the university Graduate, the youngsters? Is it intelligence, attitude, aptitude or an appreciative image? Without solid criteria it becomes arbitrary for management to recognize and acknowledge an individual as a talent.

Secondly, does one really ‘know’ the individual talent and have a clear understanding of what drives and motivates the candidate, what would be the best conditions to blossom, what the main challenges are? In other words; how does one ‘ticks’? No... then how should work, development and performance be aligned? How should you as a manager calibrate the rules of engagement, the playfield and the mandate for your talented employee with the business objectives?

Next to this, the lack of ‘effective’ engagement is also considered as a downer or even a showstopper according employee satisfaction surveys. Time is the new currency and there is always a shortage. Studies indicate that leaders would like to spend 50% of their valuable time with their team. Reality shows that their agendas are filled up to 80% to 90% with getting the job done, 5% on converting strategy into operations and 5-10% on interacting with staff. It’s no surprise that involvement is minimized to the level of ‘telling’ how it could or should be done and as such taking away ownership, instead of engaging, sharing experiences and providing constructive feedback.

What about the team members? Is talent management just meant for the happy few, the top performers? Is the ‘rest’ of the working population then qualified as ‘untalented’ or less important? How do you align the untalented with the talented? Do you really think this will work? That this will stimulate team synergy and accomplishing the best results.

What is this André you might ask? It’s your business to provide (talent) management development solutions and you are ‘just’ sharing pitfalls instead of best practices. Where is this heading for?

I am convinced that we should relay on our nature human way of interacting and collaborating. Just like I am doing at home as a member of my family.

I truly believe that everybody is talented and is entitled to explore and pursue personal development accordingly. It’s my obligation as a ‘leader’ to facilitate, to stimulate and to support this personal quest. It should be our common purpose to create a renewed collaborative standard in the way we organize our work, where employability is a commitment for all involved in the team based on shared core values. Where teams should be experienced as a safe haven with a common purpose.

Let me share our TMA true north with you, not only to give our organization direction, purpose and meaning but also as a compass for our leadership model.

The TMA leadership model

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As a precondition for accepting or pursuing leadership you should be able to lead yourself. Do you really know how you tick, what your talents are, how you can contribute best, what environment you need to blossom and be happy. What is your personal WHY? You are heading for position with a significant responsibility and with a big impact on others!

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Are you ready to make that choice to become a leader? Because leadership is a choice! No doubt about that! It’s not something you become or get by position, seniority or mastery. It’s is not something that just comes naturally. You really have to give it a lot of efforts, you have to provide safety for your team, you have to sacrifice, you have to do things without a direct return, you have to be present at all times and most of all during times of anxiety and distress, you have to put you personal interest on the bottom of your priority list.

5 imperative key areas for leadership

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Options

As a leader you have to be aware that people are always juggling with various considerations and options. Not only when they apply for the position in terms of what does it mean to get on board? How much career possibilities do I have, how much should commute? Can I have a good relation with my manager? What is the perspective on career, economical compensation etc, but also during the time of employment? Are the conditions of the job still appealing, how can I pursue my career in this company or elsewhere? What can I do to improve my relationship with my colleague who is ‘against’ me, I think I can not meet my targets, I am worried to lose my job? I am sure you can come up with many other issues from your own experiences, right?

There is only one way to ‘tackle’ this and that is to have a sincere interest in how your employee and team member is ‘ticking’. Spent time on regular basis, be present and have an open dialogue. Ask the right questions and you will get the right answers so that you are able to provide appropriate conditions, anticipate and give trust. Doing that, you have to keep in mind that his/her personal WHY is and stays aligned with the company’s and unit’s WHY.

Please do not postpone your dialogues to the annual performance review or other moments dictated by the HR cycle. Have a dialogue at any giving moment when you or your team members are receiving behavioral indicator that ‘something’ is going on.

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As a leader it is imperative that you have mastered a proficient feedback technology. Without this you will be lost in finding the right words and solution to tackle issues for your employee or team.

To provide and receive feedback is an extremely strong leadership skill that can be mastered (www.feedback-code.com). Without feedback people have no real idea of how their behavior and contribution is perceived and what could be done to for personal development or improving performance and relationships. It starts with a fundamental attitude as Thomas A Harris has stated so nicely.

Talent match

People perform best, learn most efficiently, take initiative and engage best in case their job is aligned with their drives, talents, passion, cognitive capabilities and competencies. Nevertheless recent employee surveys shows that more then 50% state that they are not contribution according their capabilities and capacity and that they are also not asked or challenged to utilize their potential.

Alignment with well developed skills and talents are crucial for the motivational part as well as for the contribution and performance. It’s essential to know specifically what the personal talents are and which ones are developed and blossomed in outstanding competencies.

We do understand that one cannot be outstanding good on all competencies the job requires. We believe it’s your responsibility as a leader to find out and ensure that your team member can work from his/ her strengths. You should not invest on those competencies where it is draining energy and giving hardship and arousing demotivation form the team member to achieve a certain level. You should be there to either provide support or make sure that you can create support by teaming up.

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The TMA performance matrix provides not only qualified insight and information but also practical tool that will help you as a leader to do the right thing in a constructive and effective way.

A second and extremely crucial element of the talent match is ownership. People do need to know what their responsibility in the playfield is so that they can deliver their contribution. Giving them assignments and taken (partly) over to ‘control’ the outcome is most devastating for the motivation to do their utmost and deliver the best thinkable. Asking as a leader what you could do is by far stronger then telling what and how they should deliver, although it could be your expertise. Please realize that innovation comes out of creative and divergent thinkers.

If you focus on their ‘core issues and struggles’ they are facing in doing the job, they will be open to ask for appropriate support. Guiding them in finding the solutions themselves will improve their personal development, their engagement and so many other aspects such as your own learning curve as a leader!

Professional cohesion

Everybody must have had the experiences that it feels really good if your contribution in the team made a difference, especially when you are recognized and appreciated for that. So how can you ensure as a leader that each team member is in position that his/her contribution provides added value. That his or her work matters?

Having brilliant people on board in your team does not automatically lead to a good team performance. You have to ensure that your team has talents on all levels, that the talents and matured competencies are complementary with a certain bandwidth. In case the professional gaps are to big to bridge or when there is no differentiation you will never reach an outstanding performance.

You could say: they are all good sailors but that does not mean that you make a difference in a competitive edge. In case each sailor has a unique set of talent based competencies that are aligned with the specific role and tasks and are enabled to integrate their skill in the right moment you will accomplish great achievements. Tuning your team, ‘training’ your cooperation, and appreciating contribution are key for success. Providing guidance and active participation on the route is evidently your role as the formal leader.

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Social cohesion

If people share a commonality of interest, share and except basic values and have the ‘openness’ for diversity in this they will bond. As a leader you have the obligation to cultivate the (micro) culture of your unit. That sounds big but ‘culture’ is no rocket science. You can simplify the concept by, for examples, see it as: ‘this is the way we do things here and together and that makes it safe to be myself’, just like at home. The main challenges for cultivating culture and ethics is having patience. Cultures do not change with a strong dynamic. It’s a slow process of ‘renewing’. New members influence the existing culture; organizational change disrupts and pushes culture in a different direction, under performance leads to anxiety, leadership has an impact, etc etc. In case all ‘actors’ are aware of the set of values that drives the culture you can address and stipulate on the explicit behavioral indicators (as you can see in the ‘true north visual’) If the culture ensures a safe environment to speak out, to make mistakes, to ask and provide help, collaboration will be a natural component. If people do not trust each other, or are pursuing different objectives, or feel disconnected, you will face severe challenges to getting the job done. Several surveys have shown that projects fail because of cultural issues but also that outperforming teams lean on a strong and solid cultural safety.

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Social cohesion should not be mixed up with personal friendship. You do not need to be personal friends in order to help, respect, show interest and create a ‘friendly and trustworthy atmosphere where people feed that they can rely on. It’s a matter of being clear what you expect and accept form each other. Again, a proficient feedback technology is one of your strongest instruments to ensure this.

Opportunity

Only personal development will lead to group development to organizational development and finally to social innovation. It’s the only way to sustain the business and to accomplish the necessary agility to maintain competitive edge.

People do not develop themselves in their comfort zone, by doing the things they are doing repetitively. Personal development starts with leaving the comfort zone and exploring new ways, new theories, new concepts. new experiences. True development does not take place in the class room but takes time and space in the contextual right environment by experimenting, by failure, by trying again until the new skill and knowledge is truly internalized and converted into ‘natural’ conduct.

As a leader you should engage on this avenue. Allow experiment and accept mistakes and see FAIL as a First Attempt in Learning. You have to accept that the ‘regular (required) performance level’ is most likely not achievable. You have to be alert that anxiety is a part of leaving one comfort zone and that you are obligated to prevent that the panic zone is entered too long or to intense.

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You have to provide the opportunity in terms of time, space and support for your team worker. Returning from the formal training intervention you have to engage and be a ‘partner’ during the internalization phase. This allows you to calibrate the new skills with the job tasks, roll and focus.

Hence, would it make sense if a team member is making an effort in developing new skills and is not provided the opportunity to ‘utilize’ this accordingly?

Talent based leadership takes a lot of courage and implicates to shift your time, efforts and attention from getting the job done to be a part of personal development and integrating business strategy and objectives in your team. I am convinced that if you chose this track you can create a better workspace for all.

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