Leaders as talent farmers

This week I'm reprising a post from five years ago on growing leaders.

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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 its 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, 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 the grass-roots WOW! Projects we had set up—high-impact, bottom-up, break-the-rules endeavors—and they were showing up as "natural leaders.")

Interestingly, a disproportionately large number of these frontline leaders came from departments run by two very people-focused managers, Lisa and Dick, 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!) I realize 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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7 Comments

    1. Yup, good drummers and good talent farmers have to be able to support others. Come to think of it, a good drummer knows how to "lead from behind." (A subject for a future post.)

  1. I like the quote but I do wonder if there's just a touch of post-rationalisation going on in Stuart's head. The Police were legendary for their bust-ups and rows, with many stories going around of Sting and Stuart pretty much coming to blows on occasions. Maybe that multi-million dollar settlement for the songwriting royalties helped, along with the passage of time, reflection and a bit more maturity? (Sting took the initial songwriting credits but apparently Stuart and guitarist Andy Summers, although still uncredited, now get a healthy cut to reflect their input.)

    I hope LIsa and Dick from your client company also got / get a whole bunch of credit for their talent development. What a pity no one previously noticed what they were doing or (with all due respect to you for asking the right question) thought to ask it themselves. "People are our most important asset" eh?

    1. Fair point. I guess we'd have to know if Stewart always took pride in his talent scouting ability. Maybe he was the kind of guy who loved to fix people up (socially or professionally)?

      Unfortunately, songwriting credit has often been a divisive dynamic in bands. (Lennon & McCartney brilliantly sidestepped THAT one by sharing credit for everything even though most of their material was written by just one of them.)

      Lisa got bumped up to run the operation shortly after I left. Dick, who frequently checks into this site, can describe his own path. (Short version: he's happily retired.)

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