Growing leaders

I came across an old Rolling Stone article on the Police—the '80s rock trio that completed a 15-month, 358-million-dollar reunion tour in 2008. (My first band did a 358-dollar tour, which is almost the same thing.)

In the article, drummer Stewart Copeland was singing the praises of Sting, the lead singer of the band who originally broke up the group in 1984 (at the height of their glory) to begin his triumphant solo career.

But instead of being resentful of the superstar status Sting 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 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 with a VP many 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 portfolio were easy to spot. They were taking command of cross-functional, grass-roots WOW! Projects—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 vicinity. Hey, it's a quantitative result. Yes, I know 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 "talent farming" measurement ever since.


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13 Comments

  1. Being a major fan of the Police I hated Sting for leaving. He writes good stuff on his own but he never surpassed his work with the Police. Copeland's a saint.

  2. I must admit I almost always prefer the original band from which the solo stars emerge. I prefer the work of the Beatles, Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Band, Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, and the Police to the individual work of most of their alumni. There's something about the egalitarian creativity of a band that in my thinking produces a superior musical product.

  3. Van Morrison vs. Them

    Mark Knopfler vs. Dire Straits isn't quite so obvious, but lean toward MK's solo stuff.

    Just some contrarian thoughts ;)

    I like the Police. I like Sting's solo stuff. Yeah, if I hear 'Brand New Day' right after 'Hungry for You', I know which one's on fire. But if he'd stayed, I can't imagine the Police would have gone on to 25 more years of what they had.

    But, to almost comment on your post, John—as I mentioned at the version on TP's blog—I think the purpose of leading is to create leaders. Copeland's lesson could save companies, but less dramatically, it often shows me who I want to do business with and who I don't. Autonomous employees makes the boss appealing as a vendor, client, whatever.

    Skittish drones? I'll do business elsewhere.

    (Skittish Drones. As my daughter would say, "That could be the name of a band!")

  4. Yep, there are exceptions to my "rule" and Van Morrison would have be one of them. Skittish Drones WOULD be a cool name. The name of my next band is going to be The Weak Signals. Speaking of which, I had a band that changed its name after every gig so it could keep working. My favorite of the names: The Soluble Fish. Heck, you just gave me a great idea for a future post. Thanks.

  5. Frank, I remember the song well. I think the Shadows of Knight did the more popular version. EVERY band performed that song in my day.

  6. John - most supervisors I've worked for don't pay a whole lot of attention to who's "growing" around them. They seem threatened by any signs of initiative or independent thinking, like an early warning of an insurrection to come. Maybe top management are encouraged to think like this in some large operations but front-line management don't seem to get the message.

  7. Anonymous: you've hit a sore spot with me. Not enough time/money/attention is paid to coaching, training, educating first-line managers in soft skills (i.e. leadership, which means growing leaders). I see this especially in manufacturing environments.

  8. Thanks, John, for the post. There is much to consider here. When things are difficult training is the first thing that goes out of the window. It seems that value is placed on training until budgets need to be balanced. Training is budgetary, perhaps not seen as necessary. But from what I gather it's far better than what it used to be.

  9. To amplify my earlier comment, I believe front-line management is frequently the most overlooked aspect of an operation, especially in manufacturing. Though in SOME cases this layer may not be necessary, if you have people in these positions you gotta give them the leadership tools to be successful.

  10. Too many supervisors dismiss the complaints of those on the shop floor or front line. Sometimes these are useful suggestions but they're heard as gripes. Part of the education of these front-line managers should be in how to listen to the concerns of workers.

  11. The old 'management by walking around'

    Just as the collapse of the family brought down the Roman empire, the collapse of genuine human interest on the front line will bring down huge corporations.

    The folks who put their hands on the machines, the folks who put their faces in front of the customers—these are the people who know what works and what's broken, and usually, how to fix it.

    A front line manager who ignores them is a fool.

    And a mid-level manager who won't let his front line manager pay attention to and learn from his front line staff is a bigger fool.

    The folly increases exponentially, all the way up the chain to the top fool.

    I figure if a crotchety curmudgeon like me can take advice from my own kids, an actual business person could probably manage it somehow.

    (Soluble Fish—maybe, Waterproof and the Soluble Fish? That way, you get to stay, and have a rotating team of musicians who come and dissolve. Um, go.)

  12. Actually the Soluble Fish and I both dissolved. I figured that was the only way I could become part of the solution.

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