I’m always fascinated by so many leaders thinking they’re truly talented at managing talent when we all know that so many people leave a business because they’re not developing, and businesses are always looking outside because the internal talent isn’t ready.

Ironically, it does remind me of the gender pay gap. Almost every leader I’ve ever met is absolutely committed to correcting the gender pay gap on their watch, or in their organisation, but across the whole of society, and most organisations, the gender pay gap steadfastly remains. With so many of us, so good at correcting it, there must be a few truly evil managers doing an absolutely lousy job and undoing all of our good work. And – bloody hell! – they’re in every organisation. Bastards!

Back to talent management and developing potential.

Let’s be clear on what this means and what it doesn’t mean. To answer this, there’s a long list and a short list.

The long version –

What it does mean

  • Knowing what strengths and abilities people on your team have
  • Knowing what people are wanting to learn or are struggling with
  • Knowing the ambitions people on your team have
  • Actively coaching people to best use their strengths
  • Constantly coaching people to develop muscles in the areas that are really important to their dreams but don’t come naturally
  • Sponsoring people to be their best and achieve their full potential

What it doesn’t mean

  • Filling in the talent grid once a year
  • Making speeches about how important people and their potential are
  • Writing emails about how everyone has the same opportunities to thrive and succeed

And the short version –

People thrive and develop to their full potential on your watch.

And there is no getting around it. Whether you’re checking off the long list, or simply looking at the very short description, ‘developing potential’ or ‘managing talent’, is incredibly visible. And measurable.

So, as leaders, how do we know if we’re any good at this development piece?

We do two things.

Firstly, we look at our current team, and we score it. Honestly. Like this –

Jot each team members name down.

Then ask yourself …

  • What are their greatest strengths?
  • What are they trying to learn?
  • Where do they want to be, doing what?
  • What’s most important to them right now?
  • How much time in the last six months have I spent one-on-one coaching this person?
  • When was the last time I gave them honest feedback, and then followed through by rolling up my sleeves and helping?
  • When did I believe in them more than they did themselves?
  • What was the last really awesome opportunity I gave them, even before they were quite ready, knowing I’d have to support them a little more?

Secondly, we look at our team from five years ago, or even ten years ago, and we ask ourselves some tough questions…

  • Where are they now?
  • Are they doing better (work in a better place) than when you worked together?
  • Have they achieved the ambitions you talked about?
  • Are the people not like you, doing as well as the people who remind you of yourself?
  • Are they doing as well as (or better) than you?

And that last question matters most. Great developers of people, who create environments where people absolutely thrive, end up creating teams of champions, who ALL go on to do great things.

We know the leaders that everyone wants to work for, are the ones who not only allow us to thrive but insist we do.  They lift up a whole team and pull and push them forward.

I’ve always said “leadership is not about you. It’s about everyone else”.

I so believe that there’s a way of looking at leadership where we’re measured not on ourselves, but on our impact on others – collective and individual. I think it’s the right way to look at leadership – not as a judge of people, or of their potential, but as an enabler of the best in every single person. A builder of the environment and expectations that everyone lifts to. You don’t want them reliant on you. You want them confidently contributing their best, their way, challenging you to be better too.

If you’re losing great people, or you’re unable to attract great people to your team, I bet this will be part of the reason. Stop chatting about talent and potential, and start letting your actions and impact speak for itself. One moment at a time. One person at a time. Until the whole team lifts.

I wish you, and your team, every success.