Talent & Leadership

Over the years I’ve been involved with leadership development from several perspectives:

1) The brand new, first time leader (mostly failures & school of hard knocks)
2) The new leader of a turnaround business (different set of skills needed)
3) Member of the leadership team for an organization
4) Director of Leadership Development, training over 50 individuals to become GM/business unit chiefs.
5) Lifelong student (MBA @ USC’s Marshall School of Business)
While I love learning (reading, watching) from other experts, I can’t help but apply all of that through my real-world lens that prevents me from swallowing everything put forth. And, since successful leaders are needed now more than ever in healthcare, I’ll dedicate several posts to the subject here.
Recently one of my company’s new, promising Administrator-in-training/CEO-in-training (AIT/CIT) questioned some of my statements/critiques of Marcus Buckingham’s best seller, First Break All The Rules (Great Book) during a training week we affectionately call boot camp. My email response is below:
TO: Eric

RE: my rejection of Gallup/First Break All The Rules … I like MOST of what’s in that book. I really like the 12 questions and the scientific basis for their conclusions. However, I think they ignore one major variable in the talent/success formula — chemistry with supervisor. Good to Great talks about ‘the RIGHT people on the bus,’ as you know. I think G2G also ignores this in determining what makes someone ‘right.’ I have seen (and seen in my partners) many times when someone was ‘great’ at what they did for one leader and then that same person was not the ‘right’ person for the new leader. If the person has the talent for the position, s/he should thrive according to both G2G and 1st Break. But, the reality is chemistry with the talented person’s leader is critical to his/her ability to thrive. Furthermore, where there is strong chemistry/trust, I’ve seen (again, many times) a great leader be able to help underperformers change and succeed. Instead of debating whether or not the person had the talent to become great, I believe we’re better served by focusing on creating rock-solid relationships with the people we lead — allowing them to become what sometimes only we can see them capable of becoming (the Dulcinea concept).

So, I don’t reject Gallup. Just like I don’t reject G2G. I just find their discussions of talent incomplete. Talent-mapping or profiling for a position is really tricky business. We came very close to attempting this for our Administrator in Training/Executive Directors selection a couple years ago. You can maybe find a few common characteristics of successful leaders in the company. How do we know that very different people can succeed here or do better than we’ve seen. This approach becomes even more troublesome when you see the huge difference in types of operations, geographies, rural/urban, size, demographics, stages of stability, etc. I would have a much harder time thriving in a small rural town than someone who is better equipped for that. Yet, we don’t have luxury of knowing the nature of what opportunities will be available for the new CEO in Training when hired.

What I take from Gallup is playing to people’s strengths. We need to do a better job of this here. We’ve learned by sad experience that just b/c you’re very successful at one operation does not mean you’ll be successful at a very different one. What happened to our previously very successful leaders when they change facilities or market dynamics or people dynamic change significantly and then they fail? Didn’t they have talent? In other words, I find predicting success based on past experiences or exhibited talents incomplete. Fit and timing are more predictive in my opinion. I’m not saying past experience and talent is meaningless. Of course it’s useful. So, what do I look for in an AIT/CIT? I look for how likely they will fall prey to the factors of derailment below. I’ll take very different talents b/c we need all types and all types have been successful here. But, I don’t want the leader who appears to be perfect for the position who is clueless about his/her blind spots, weaknesses, and has never changed his approach based on learning from hard experiences. That’s what I focus on in my interviews.

See the article and book excerpt attached for a better explanation of this school of thought. I don’t see it far off from what Gallup or G2G is saying. I just think it’s a more complete viewpoint taking into account an individual’s chemistry, timing (peter principle), fit, and pride.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.


And, I’d love to hear YOUR thoughts too …

2 thoughts on “Talent & Leadership

  1. I also wanted to post some of Eric's very insightful response (I really like the analogy of successful coaches):


    That is exactly the reason I joined this company.

    As for your thoughts on G2G as well as Gallup/1st Break, this is an angle I haven’t given much thought to, but makes complete sense. I guess you can liken it to all the great successful college coaches that take their skills to the NFL or NBA and then choke because it isn’t the right fit or they have fallen to a little bad luck. It doesn’t mean they forgot how to coach or are even a bad coach, but again it is the fit and chemistry. This is definitely not recognized by these two philosophies but certainly has major implications on the success of a leader.

    I truly believe that a strong leader understands who he is, meaning a complete understanding of his strengths and weaknesses. Like you said below, they know where their blind spots are and how to handle them. I think a leader that understands this knows how to place himself in the right situations. My struggle with strengths and weaknesses and in particular the Gallup StrengthsFinder is that your “strengths” in the end are in reality the perception you have of yourself. It doesn’t get a second opinion, only yours. We have all met people, and I fall prey to it myself, where a person thinks they are strong in one area, but in reality it is a major weakness and they focus on it so much that they are delusional and think it is now a strength. My second struggle is that Gallup teaches that your weaknesses will always be your weaknesses, you just need to learn how to manage them.

  2. Interesting distinction, Dave, and one I’ve seen borne out before. Just re-read G2G and was shocked at the time and effort newly appointed CEOs spent following the “First who, then what” axiom. It’s an axiom I completely believe, but man, it takes guts to resist the pressure of trying to show immediate results by messing with different levers and dials; holding off on doing too much of that that until you can patiently get the right people on board.

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