A Conversation About Talent

Talent Management

November 13, 2008

by Marshall Goldsmith

I recently participated in an online discussion with readers of The Washington Post, in which I answered questions about business leadership strategies. I want to share some of my distilled thoughts from that conversation about what I feel are some of the most important workforce issues.

The Next Generation

A few inquiries related to the people who are entering or are about to enter the workforce. One of the folks in the discussion asked a somewhat pointed question about how to manage this “me” generation (I thought baby boomers had the rights to that designation) which is “used to being coddled” and only has “the desire to do what they want.”

Needless to say, I don’t necessarily agree with this characterization. In fact, I think it can be challenging and refreshing to manage people who are honest about having self-interest. After all, this is supposed to be a capitalist country, and the essence of capitalism is self-interest. Thus, why shouldn’t this group focus on its own?

Also, the world they’re growing up in is far different than the world of their parents, and even older siblings. Younger workers face global competition that is far different than the competition we faced. For example, I recently went to India, where there are hundreds of thousands of very smart, very hungry young people who speak fluent English.

Young workers in the United States, India and around the world have a realistic view of the business environment. It’s tough out there! They’re well aware of the current economic turmoil and the challenges of globalization. They have no belief that corporations will “take care” of them, nor should they. The key to building teamwork with this group is to focus on building positive, win-win relationships so both parties see the benefit.

Leadership Development

Another popular topic was how to develop top-notch leaders. One of the participants in the discussion asked about specific individuals who exemplified what business leadership should be.

I get this question a lot, and I invariably point to Frances Hesselbein, former CEO of the Girl Scouts of America, who management expert Peter Drucker called the best executive in the world. Her leadership traits included caring more about her mission than herself, involving everyone around her in the success of the organization and caring about her staff and her customers — in this case, young girls.

Related questions touched on the subject of which qualities make for great leaders. My response: Great leaders should ask for feedback, not just from their superiors, but even their colleagues and direct reports. They listen to what others have say, learn from their comments and follow up to ensure positive, long-term change.

Employee Motivation

Correlating to the previous areas, a third theme emerged in our conversation: motivating employees. One person asked how to inspire workers to continue doing well and to let them know they’re appreciated, especially when they get larger workloads.

Given this challenge, it’s more critical than ever for organizations to have high-quality management. One of the most important factors in employee morale is the person’s immediate manager. A great manager can make a huge difference in employee motivation. Managers should recognize people, treat them with respect, show appreciation and let employees know how much they care about their priorities and concerns.

The key to success in leading people is not the just the qualities of the leader; it’s also the people being led. One of the best executives I ever had the pleasure of working with had a sign on his desk that said, “Leadership is not about ME. It is about THEM!” This is why he is such a great leader.

Although I only had so much time to devote to this very interesting and engaging discussion, I’m always interested in talking about the way people interact, improve and perform within organizations. If you have any questions or comments, shoot me a note anytime