They are partners - not employees

Drake Editorial Team

Talent management is a field that requires a healthy dose of leadership on the part of its practitioners who must be innovators and influencers.

Although this has always been true, what's changed, however, is the way people are led. Gone are the days when leaders could be — indeed, were expected to be — aloof and unapproachable, handing out orders from on high like some sort of demigod. Because of revolutionary transformations in the business world, the traditional relationships between employees and employers have changed.

Leaders today must see their direct reports as partners, not underlings. Successful leaders will work hard to build meaningful relationships with the people who work under them. Ideally, these bonds will be open, honest, respectful and multidirectional.

Managers of knowledge workers (that is, people who know more about what they do than those above them) must be good partners. They won't have a choice! If they are not great partners, they won't have great people.

What are the implications of all of this for talent managers? Well, they have to cultivate the following communicative behaviours in the leadership tier of their organizations, as well as in themselves.


Active Listening

The thing about listening that escapes most people is they think of it as a passive activity. It doesn't require any real effort on their part - they just sit there and hear someone talking. Of course, this is all wrong. Good listeners consider what they do an active process.

There are three things all good listeners do, all of which relate to one another. First, they think before they respond. Second, they listen with respect. Finally, they always evaluate their reply against the question, "Is it worth it?" If you can master these, you can be an effective listener.


Expressing Gratitude

Thanking someone for a job well done is important because it conveys one of our most basic and valuable emotions: gratitude. This is a genuine and complex feeling, not some meaningless abstraction. Gratitude is either felt, or it isn't - it cannot be expected or exacted.

When someone does something nice for you, they expect gratitude, and they think less of you for withholding it. Think about it. If you gave a gift to someone who didn't subsequently express authentic appreciation somehow, how would you feel about that person?

Here's an exercise to get you started: Think about who has helped you progress in your career and write down the names of 25 people who are most responsible for your success. Then ask yourself whether you've really expressed gratitude to these individuals for their counsel and support. Before you do anything else, write each of them a thank-you note.

This isn't just some exercise to make you feel better about yourself. In fact, it's the opposite. It's humbling because it shows you how many people you owe for your professional achievements. Similarly, you should thank employees who make you look good with their numerous accomplishments.


Getting Feedback (and "Feed Forward!")

Leaders often don't want to hear negative feedback, and employees don't always want to give it to them. People in high-level positions are sometimes nearly delusional about their achievements and don't want any negative responses to slip through their mental filters. But feedback is key to understanding who we really are. People need to possess the capacity to change - that's a fact of survival. But if they don't get feedback, they won't know when, why and how they should adapt to shifting circumstances.

Once you've received feedback, you should proceed to "feed forward." This is a four-step process, which breaks down as follows:

  1. Pick a behaviour you need to change.
  2. Discuss this objective with anyone who knows you well.
  3. Ask the person for two suggestions to help you change.
  4. Listen attentively to the suggestions.

Then, of course, be sure to thank them.

The challenge of leadership is growing. Many traditional qualities such as integrity, vision and self-confidence are still needed. But building partnerships is becoming a requirement, not an option, for future leaders.

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, best-selling author and world authority in helping successful leaders get even better. His latest book, MOJO, is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal top ten best seller. In November 2009, he was recognized as one of the 15 most influential business thinkers in the world in the bi-annual study sponsored by The (London) Times and Forbes. Contact him at Marshall@MarshallGoldsmith.com.


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