Lessons on Leadership, Life (and music)

If I had a dollar (hell, make it a thousand) for every time I’ve heard, read or have been reminded that “people are our greatest asset” I’d be blogging from a remote Caribbean island. If I had the same amount for every business that ACTS like people are their greatest asset, I’d be significantly more impoverished.

Why is this so?

Beyond our collective affinity for warm sounding platitudes, clichés and wanting to say the right things, it’s simply easier said than done. The most important assets of an organization should be managed with a high degree of concern, care, purpose and certainty that such resources are scarce. It’s just not a common practice.

In high performing, profitable and customer-centric organizations, investing in people in order to sustain a learning environment is non-negotiable and is essential to a productive organizational culture.

All other business factors aside, excellence is derived from the talent you hire and develop, period. As such, the linchpin to success is grounded in successful recruitment and promotion activities. All too often, that’s where the grinding of metal begins within many companies.

In hiring and promotion activities, there’s a strong bias in overvaluing skills, knowledge and experience. The misery is compounded when such decisions are made by people who are assigned the task of hiring, not because they are good at hiring, but because it’s heresy to accept that every manager isn’t a genius at hiring and promoting. (If you buy into that notion, I have some swamp land for sale).

Knowledge, skills and experience are important, however, they represent “base camp” in effective human resource decision making. Work by the Gallup Group, detailed in the book First Break All the Rules, reveals the critical importance of identifying relating, thinking and striving talents (referred to as strengths) to predict the success of an incumbent in a given role.

A successful bookkeeper, for example, “thinks” in a linear manner, “strives” for accuracy and can be successful with lower “relating” talents. By contrast, a successful sales and marketing role calls for non-linear “thinking”, “striving” for creativity and influencing choices by others and higher “relating” talents.

The impact of ineffective hiring and promotion is further denigrated by another sad tendency in the business world, which I refer to it as “corporate waterboarding”.

Though largely unintentional, it goes something like this: On Friday, you’re a successful individual contributor, “kicking butt and taking names” as it were. You’ve developed a reputation for getting THINGS done. At some point, someone in the management food chain determines that your performance merits responsibility for oversight of other breathing mammals. Euphoria sets in for a brief shining moment.

On Monday, as a freshly minted manager, you’re expected to keep hitting home runs (e.g. getting things done) while demonstrating your newly developed expertise (as in hopefully developed over the weekend) in hiring, managing others, resolving conflict, budgeting, planning, communication, strategy, performance management, team building etc. [Did that make you laugh, cry or both?]

Don’t worry, you’ll have a good month or so before the boss starts pointing out your shortcomings. “Man, what was I thinking? He/she’s going to need some serious training and development.” You’ve just been waterboarded. And we wonder why people drown in their new roles…

The reality is, you’ll never master all of those skills: People just aren’t wired that way. That’s why it’s important to collaborate, ask for help, know your strengths – then lean into them – versus trying to become someone you’ll never be, which is a prolific waste of time and energy.

From my perspective, the most important thing you’ll ever do as a leader is hire, promote or otherwise surround yourself with people who are smarter, have more energy, are more curious, more creative, more courageous and take greater risks than you and who inspire you to be better. To do it right, you’ll need help from others. It’s not a solo act.

Make sure that your team members have complimentary skills. That approach will make you fabulously successful if you have the vulnerability and courage to act on it.

Also, integrate effective, repeatable and consistent hiring, promotion and development processes, which focus and the right criteria (The subject of my next blog) and identify high alignment between role requirements and candidate capability. Does your company have an exceptional training program for hiring?

Identify the 20% of folks who do have a talent for hiring. (Yes, you read that correctly. Its the Prado Rule of 80/20. I repeat: Just because you are a manager doesn’t mean you’re great at hiring. If you doubt that, check the track record of folks in your organization).

Reward those who are good at hiring for staying involved in this critical process, in support of the entire organization, to augment the decision making process of managers with different talents.

Finally, develop an on boarding process that will assist new hires (and those who are promoted) to enter their roles with a documented plan of action, which accentuates relationship building, organizational awareness and learning BEFORE you bury them with a to do list. It’s yet another way of “investing” in success.

As Billy Joel sang, “Get it right the first time …that’s the main thing.”


Guy Clumpner

Guy Clumpner

Guy Clumpner is the President of Holt Development Services Inc. (HDSI). For over two decades, HDSI has helped client- partners integrate and customize Holt’s Values Based Leadership model within high performing organizations throughout North America. HDSI’s many clients include Spurs Sports & Entertainment, the parent company of the five time NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs. As a student and teacher of leadership, Guy finds fulfillment in consulting, teaching, executive coaching and mentoring in the private, public and non-profit sectors.

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