We Need Talent Leaders

Leadership is hard to define. One might say, “I know it when I see it, but I can’t tell you exactly what it is.” We have all probably worked for good leaders — people who inspired us, excited us, or challenged us. We have also all worked for good managers — people who carefully directed us, followed the process, met the numbers, and always followed through. Both are good. Both are necessary. But different times require more of one type than of the other. We now need talent leaders at an unprecedented level.

Unfortunately, recruiting is full of managers. These are the people who run their recruiting organizations cautiously. They never adopt any technology or procedure until lots of other organizations have. They always stay within their budgets and hire traditional recruiters. They follow the crowd and are most comfortable when doing whatever has been proven to work. To most recruiting managers, the world changes in an evolutionary way, and there is no need to be an early adopter or to challenge the ways things are done. As long as the hiring managers aren’t complaining, they are happy. Hiring managers and CEOs, however, are more and more inclined to complain about their recruiting functions.

In a recent informal survey of CEOs and senior-level managers that I come into contact with all over the world, I heard the same complaints about how inadequate their talent functions are to meet the challenges these organizations face. Work is being redefined, skilled people are hard to find (and even harder to convince to come and work for you), generations are clashing, outsourcing is growing, and the world is shrinking. Most organizational leaders are now awake to the competitive advantage that having talented people can create. All of the traditional tools of recruiting are coming under scrutiny, and the entire function is close to being snatched out of the hands of traditional recruiters and put into new hands ó hands perceived as capable of meeting the challenges that organizations will face. This is why recruitment process outsourcing has exploded over the past three years and will continue to do so. If recruiting remains primarily an internal corporate function (an assumption that I think is seriously challenged) the new leadership will be folks with business acumen, with a global perspective, and with a belief that everything that has been done in recruiting up until now should be challenged and probably reinvented. Here are three of the most critical leadership traits that whoever heads up the talent function will have to possess. How many of these do you have?

Vision and the Courage to Act

Perhaps the most needed competency of recruiting leaders is the ability to create a vision of what recruiting could be. This means that they can create a verbal picture of how a successful recruiting function could improve the profits and success of the organization. Through their own creativity and their ability to see how future technologies, concepts, and emerging trends could be advantageously applied to meeting talent needs, they create excitement and rally folks to their cause. Many times these people are faced with skepticism and disapproval from their own staff and from senior management. They need to be able to build solid business reasons for what they think is right, and they have to overcome many petty obstacles. Patience and perseverance are vital, as is the ability to influence both senior management and one’s own team. If you look at strong leaders, whether of corporations, countries, or armies, you can see how all of these traits are requisite to success. You may throw up your hands at this and say, “I could never do this.” On the other hand, you might surprise yourself if you really believe that change is necessary. Almost everyone has some idea of what could be improved or where an experiment might work and make a difference. And even if you don’t, people on your team and outside your organization can provide ideas. It is the courage to act that begins to define leadership.

Creativity and an Innovative Mindset

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You will have to find ways to clearly be perceived as different or better than everyone else if you want to attract the best people. Cisco had a philosophy a few years ago of attracting only the top 10 percent. To execute on this, it established leadership in sourcing creativity and actually invented many practices that are commonly used today. These include having an interactive website, a candidate profiler, and the use of technology and email. It will take continued and continuous experimentation and constant upgrading of technology to get the attention of the best. But few organizations that I am familiar with have even achieved recruiting parity, to say nothing about excellence, in their own industries. Most of the recruiting world is firmly embedded in 1970 or 1980 and is just beginning to realize the value of recruiting websites, online screening and assessment, recruiting image and brand development, and the need for integration of development and acquisition functions.

The Ability to Build an Integrated Team

A team made up of people with different but complimentary skills is essential for your success. You need to identify what kinds of people will aid your success and get your function to your vision, and then you need to focus on giving them the support and resources to succeed. Your job is to find and develop talent ó for yourself and for your organization. To the extent you do this well, you will be successful. The best-in-the-world firms will know that their core of highly talented, well-compensated employees will be able and willing to leverage technology, experiment with new approaches, and cast off what doesn’t produce results as a matter of course. You will need people who can be moved as needed because they have broad skills and are not tied to org charts and titles or even to a particular recruiting expertise. We are sorely in need of individuals who can be leaders — not managers — and take the risks, inspire their staff and creatively move us into this century.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.


5 Comments on “We Need Talent Leaders

  1. ‘I couldn?t wait for success so I went ahead without it.’ ~ Jonathon Winters

    JW wuld have fit right into your metrics, Mr. Wheeler.

  2. Kevin, good article, great insights; and I?d like to add my two-cents-worth on conditions at play in this [enigma wrapped in a conundrum].

    [Turf Wars] between various elements of an enterprise; they?re found in every organization of any size. With individual careers [incomes] on the line, it?s a situation that will be in play in perpetuity, and without really great leadership will be difficult to combat and/or overcome.

    Also at play is a failure by ?executives/managers? [you know those guys in-charge like the ones you suggest] that are too often dismissive of, and have no appreciation [at all] for the non-linear [creative] thinkers in an organization. John Sullivan in Rethinking Strategic HR [I?d have replaced ?HR? with HC], describes the situation in terms of, ?One of the most startling revelations by individuals who are for the first time striving to be strategic is that they are almost always ?shocked? when they first see ?real? strategic ideas. They somehow expect strategic ideas to be easy to understand and instantly credible. They also assume that the clear logic and workability of strategic solutions will just ?jump out at you.? In reality, nothing can be further from the truth.?

    I?d describe the situation? within the ranks of too many corporate enterprises, as a prevalence of management [leadership would be a stretch] clones, as cogs who re[act] to problems and challenges in predictable ways, including:

    (1) What happens to concepts–why there is so little creativity:

    Yesterday you asked me why I wanted it.
    Today you asked me why I don?t have it!

    >>>>>>>>> AND >>>>>>>>>>>

    (2) The belief that managers are leaders, when in reality managers are linear operators who respond to situations and events in the following way:

    There they go!
    I must catch them!
    For, I am their leader!

    So, just how does an organization go about the business of change when, those in command have neither the necessary foresight, nor the courage required; and those in authority are dismissive when presented [confronted] with ideas that seem alien or odd?

  3. Once again, Kevin demonstrates his clear understanding and insight of what needs to be done and what we need to be thinking about in order to be successful.

    It is interesting how so many things get back to having the courage and insight to simply demonstrate leadership by being courageous and thinking differently. If only people realized how easily they can invent the future by executing on this concept.

    Bravo Kevin; some days I think your writing is almost as good as mine.

    Howard Adamsky

  4. Having the courage to think differently is the easy part; it’s thinking differently *and* correctly that’s a challenge. Fear of failure is probably a very wise instinct for a great number of managers.

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