Five Things I Learned About Top Talent Leadership Development

My recent work with top talent was very interesting. They are mid level managers from several organizations. Some were grouped together and another dispersed in their own role while going through the program with me.

These are top talent. They earned their spot through the their experiences on the job while scaffolding their growth. They are very talented and some are opinionated. All of them went through several screening processes before being short-listed into this program.

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The insights I got here worth sharing. Here there are:

1. True Leaders Show Up

Apparently there are a lot of us want to be a leader. We like the attention given to a leader. Some crave for it from distance. However, not many willing to show up and hustle their way to become one. Most expect someone somewhere “recognize” them as “leader material”, in other words, they are offered to be a “leader”. Please don’t be mistaken, being a leader doesn’t equate of a promotion at work. Yes, for a promotion you need someone to offer you however, there are many leaders become one without a title – said by Robin Sharma. In other words, anyone can be a leader.

This person I call Jim is very interesting. When engaging him in a group he was very quiet and a follower type. He sometimes talk about his idea but yeah all he did was talking. However in our private coaching session, he projected himself as “leader-material-that-yet-to-be-found” by someone in his organization. He reminisced about his past when his colleagues and bosses often talked about his achievements at work. He usually observed others from afar. However when asked why did he not act like one in the group, he said he had his moments so he feels others should have their moments now. That’s the reason why he “stepped aside”. Jim was making excuses. This kind of strategy may backfire if you want to be seen as a leader. True leader shows up.

2. Leader Knows and Expresses Quality

“You know it when you see it”. This is how sometimes we used to describe quality in a person or a thing. As an adult most of us have seen lots of things. We have experienced several setbacks and winning some battles at the same time. We met so many people with varying characters and qualities. Some we like, some we don’t. In summation, we roughly know in general whether a person is with substance or whether another person is just a BS. The only thing we don’t do sometimes is to show it.

This person call Randy was given a task to evaluate his colleagues assignments. Randy has been in the organization for 15 years and he’d seen a lot. Some of them are his new colleagues and from the rumours these new people are the bosses allies. So Randy gave full marks without considering the quality of the assignments. In the private coaching he was asked why he did that. At first Randy was shocked because he didn’t realized he was observed. He thought people are not watching. Later he confessed he did that because he wanted to please the “future bosses”. Randy substandard mindset actually is a self-sabotage. He is scared to evaluate other people. He wanted to please people that he doesn’t know enough, although he has wide experience in his work and in the company. Leader should express quality.

3. Proper Selfishness Is Okay

The word of Charles Handy, proper selfishness theory means “That in order to truly be ourselves, we need to serve others.” A leader must go beyond his own domain and reach out to others. He usually acts even without being asked although it may cost him economically (within his means) and sometimes to the detriment of his personal life (especially his family members would say how come you always do things for others?)

This great man I call Harris is such a guy. In an open team setting, I could see him attempting to show up and offer his wealth of experiences. Although some time he successfully did it, most of the time he ended up hesitant and follow the crowd. There were cases when his team lost in games we play, although they had great chance had Harris jumped in and steer it right.

In the private coaching, he explained that he is worried that people might think of him as trying to show off and to gain merit points. Although he admitted no one has spoken to him directly in that way, he “felt” he knew it from the look “in their eyes”. This is true to most of us where we sometimes overly thinking of what others have to say. Proper selfishness is okay.

4. Some Top Talent Not Leader Material

You see most leaders in many organization these days grow up from top talent pipelines. Typically they excel in their formative education till tertiary. Some come from Ivy League universities or top scorers. Later they are groomed in a well designed top talent development program before being promoted into rotational roles paving path to leadership position. The thing is, we know the big challenge with top talent is the way they carry themselves with people. Often, this top breed find difficulties working with others. In some cases, they loathed having others around them. In the word of Marshall Goldsmith, by the time we reach teen years our minds are already shaped of how we see the world. Throughout our youth it get reinforced and become our identity. By the time we reach the workforce we already a “complete” person carrying our own “tainted lenses” around.

This lady call Carly is such a person. She is a product of top local university. She did very well in her academic years. According to her, she was supposed to go to USA for her tertiary education, however due to financial crisis, she only managed to complete year one before called back. She completed the remaining years here in Malaysia. In private coaching with her, you can tell that she is very proud of her achievements as a student and a career woman. After about 30 minutes into our conversation, she looked at me and said actually she hardly had any conversation like this with her colleagues or direct reports. She said she find these people are “not able to match her calibre and intellectual capacity”. She also mentioned that lately her bosses have been favoring other candidate for regional role although she hit her numbers well. There’s a saying, as you grow further in organization or in life, the only significant thing that matter is how you treat other people.

5. Leader Roles Sleeves, Ideas Are Cheap!

I hammered this many times in my program, ideas are cheap! Ideas are cheap! You can’t make money with just ideas, no matter how brilliant it is. Ask any innovators and inventors, they stumbled many times on their initial ideas. Moreover, often the things they commercialized later on is very likely something they never thought before. As a leader, we need to know that we need to milk ideas and then put the ideas to test. Some leaders, because of their position or role, throwing ideas from left right centre. Ideas after ideas and expect others to pick it up. Worst, they have this idea that their direct report should be of the “same wavelength” with them and should know how to fly the idea.

This person call Peter is a direct report to a director. Peter’s boss, is such a person. The boss will come in the office and throw in ideas. Call Peter to his room and try to win Peter with his idea and expect it fly the next day. When Peter failed to do so, his boss get very angry. He said that Peter is unable to think outside the box – even after various training sent.

In a design thinking ideation, we brought his boss to participate and we could see him in action. However, through our design thinking guidance where we get them to try out some creative tools and active collaboration techniques, we could see that Peter and his boss could work on really well – they become great sparring partner. They work on simple prototype and test it around. It is a real hard work for any idea to win the marketplace. We leaders, lets role our sleeves.

I hope these sharing has been insightful and helpful.

Brickbats please send to donkhairul@gmail.com 

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