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Essay: Breaking the Leadership Pipeline

Posted by on November 20, 2017

Breaking the Leadership Pipeline –

the myth about Talent

The world of talent. For surely it is a “world” all in and of itself, no? When we first step into the world of talent, we are faced with the precarious requirements of actually defining what is talent, who is talent, and what do we do with these people who have (or have not) been labelled as talented.

It’s interesting for me to see the differentiator that companies overlook when dealing with talent. Hear the word “talent”, and you can almost expect it to be synonymous with the word “leader” shortly thereafter, followed by the idea of “succession”. The misnomer is that our talent are the leaders in their field and should continue to succeed us in the future. The truth could not be more off than that. Talent – in its purest sense – would naturally result in followers. Think of the pianist with so much talent that people flock in from miles and miles just to listen to a snippet of what’s on offer. But then ask the pianist if she sees herself as a leader, and the honest answer will be no. She is just doing what she loves, and what she is good at.

This means that talent and leadership cannot be considered tantamount. In fact, they are quite clearly distinguishable. It drives me insane speaking with individuals who do not wish to accept the fact that someone who is good at something may just want to continue being good at that one thing. The talented individual may not want to go any further into leading others, but prefer to specialise and master the craft and arts of their own field. Leadership, while it deals with inspiring others, is more a form of intentional influence. Keeping with my explanation of the pianist, one could find a gem of a pianist somewhere in the middle of nowhere who has only ever had her teddy bear listen to her play.

This may be why the argument exists that anyone can be a leader. If one is talented in something, the likelihood of having others listen to you and follow your lead is more pronounced. That being said, while talent may give a jump up the “inspiration” pipeline, it isn’t what will take a person to that next level of influence.

I am tempted to actually recreate the leadership pipeline and replace it, instead of with worlds of work or worlds of thinking, as it is so often described these days…and instead show that the aspirations of the leader relate to extent of reach of influence, versus extent of reach of inspiration.

Being someone who likes to assign behaviours to a thing, my idea of these two extremes is an interesting one. The thought of inspiration is, in and of itself, a factor of influence. If I am inspired by a person, the very definition of the world explains this as being stimulated or enthused. Arguably this, in itself, creates the sustenance for influence? And as such is as confusing as talent versus leadership? Not so…

The difference lies in where the control comes from. Those who seek out to influence (and through so, inspire), take the control into their own hands to actively pursue avenues that allow for this action. Those who seek to inspire (and through so, influence), are focused on the task and as such the control of the reaction is in the hands of the followers. I enjoy this concept, because it clearly puts into perspective leader/follower-ship theories. Who was it who decided that this person was a leader? And leader of what? A pianist may be a thought-leader in their field, but simply because the followership demands it of their work. A conductor may be a quite competent in playing an instrument, although never talented to place him in the top 5%, and as such to gain the recognition of his inherent abilities he actively sought out a role that would provide him with the platform to be a leader.

I struggle with leadership theories in work environments, because the habitual assigning of the title “leader” to role of “manager” to “level of work” often confuses too many factors at once. I am fully supportive of integrating information – so long as the message conveyed across that integration is aligned properly. When one has a leader, there is no reason to align it to a role – because (and of course this depends on the leadership theory one wants to apply) the moment we limit leaders to roles, our leaders slip through our finger (or we end up with the masses enforcing the leader of their choice, which has its own difficulties). In the same sense, when one has a role, who are we to decide that this is now the leader? And the assumption of role implies level of thought – meaning that we are quite readily cutting down our talent and leadership pool based on a speculative capacity to deal with “complexity” (the definition of which no one can readily provide other than the well adopted VUCA acronym).

In recent years, we have so easily integrated the idea of emotional intelligence into our selection and development practices…but we have missed the plot in how the factors of EI and behaviour balance with Cognition, and how these three impact and effect our unseen-organisational-hierarchy. When we look at the physical changes to structures within companies, the changes are often organic in nature. If we start to comprehend the combinations of these constructs that we so readily measure, we may be able to take into our hands a more proactive approach to designing environments that best suit our people – that allow the talented specialists to remain inspirational, and the ambitious leaders to further their influence.

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If you’d like to chat with me about my thoughts on the leadership pipeline in more detail, drop me a comment

Wonderwhiterabbit hopping off

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