Leadership Farming

In the last week or so, I came across an old Rolling Stone article (28 June 2007) about The Police—the ’80s rock band that recently completed a $358-million reunion tour. In the article, drummer Stewart Copeland was singing the praises of Sting, the lead singer who originally broke up the group in 1984 (at the height of their glory) to begin his mega-successful solo career. But, instead of being resentful of the superstar status Sting had achieved on his own, Copeland actually took pride in it because—as he explained—he was the one who discovered Sting back in 1976. “Sting’s my guy! I found him. I’m proud of him. When they shouted his name at shows, I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s my guy.'” Copeland, you see, identified himself as a talent scout, not just as a drummer or a band member. That way Sting’s accomplishments became his accomplishments. This struck me as instructive to organizational leaders who, if they choose to, can take pride in their ability to identify—as well as develop and promote—talent.

It brought me back to a consulting session I did with a VP years ago in which I was helping him evaluate his senior management team. I suggested he list which departments the “frontline leaders” were emerging from, to see if there was a pattern worth noting. (These young dent-makers without title were easy to spot. They were taking command of cross-functional WOW! Projects—exciting, big-impact, bottom-up, break-the-rules endeavors that were producing tangible results for the operation.) Interestingly, a disproportionately large number of these frontline leaders came from departments run by two very people-focused leaders, who LOVED to spot and develop talent. In fact, like Stewart Copeland, they took special pride in the blossoming of particular individuals under their watch. It struck me at the time that one way to evaluate a manager’s performance is by simply tallying the number of leaders who are sprouting up in that person’s purview. (After all, it’s a quantitative result.) Yes, of course it’s an imprecise measurement, but if managers have up-and-coming leaders popping up like shoots all around them, they’re likely to be doing something right.

I’ve been recommending this simple “leadership measurement” ever since.

John OLeary posted this on November 12, 2008, in Talent.
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