I know... I know...there exists a plethora of books and articles that point us in the direction of solving all of our problems with someone's version of leadership. As a contributor of contemporary leadership principles, I too often get caught up in the hype of the next great leadership think. Amazingly, with my own love and passion for studying the human need to lead or follow, I am often obscured from some very basic truths. Simply put, without the "right" people on the team, the quantity and quality of the leadership provided will always be limited.
That's right, unless we are maximizing our attraction and retention of the human (HU) element; the efficacy of the organization is always going to be limited. We certainly can improve the performance of the current human asset, however we cannot compensate for the simple lack of human talent.
Today's organizational trends are quite alarming. With the high rate of litigation in today's business environment, too many teams are simply playing with the talent they are blessed (or cursed) enough to have. These teams are afraid to make changes in the name of turnover costs or the potential for an employee lawsuit.
This environment has created a need for leadership think that condones a fear-based culture that walks on egg shells when it comes to managing people. Great leadership and paralyzing fear often do not coexist. A cautious approach to hiring and firing only limits the performance of your team. Shedding the underperformers and poor attitudes expeditiously helps speed your organization's success.
Risk is truly commensurate with return. The less risk you tolerate the less return your team will experience. In the name of risk avoidance, your HU value will become diluted to the point that you longer have the competitive edge. The latent potential of your team will become larger and performance will deteriorate over time. Depending on the rate of loss, lost performance may not be noticed by many on the team. The team will slowly acclimate to the lower standard and it will become the new normal. Only when a quantifiable score becomes evident will the team realize there is a problem. And more amazingly, the source of the problem will not be obvious.
Leadership that promotes HU talent as a competitive advantage will have the most success. With the right mix of people along with their individual capabilities, accomplishing objectives seems to occur with relative ease. Yet, why do so many companies not "get it"?
The following thinking may provide a clue to the enigma of people and performance. In his book Linchpin, Seth Godin describes the tendency of organizations to actually avoid the most talented players. In fact, he states that organizations have become conditioned (since industrialization) to seek the lowest adequate performer that money can buy. The minimum HU quotient leads to a smaller payroll cost. And, payroll is often one of the highest costs in most businesses. He postulates that companies see "linchpins" as those people with the most talent and capability. They appear hard to manage, take more risk and are very expensive (and they usually are) to the organization. These companies would much rather invest in technology than talent.
If your leadership team does not place people and talent acquisition as the core of the strategic plan, they might be infected with the mediocrity of the past. Leadership truly does matter but it is only effective when focused on the HU element first. Attracting and retaining the very best, while liberating the "sub performer" is your key to success. Your business is only as good as the talent on the team - no strategy, great plan or great leadership will compensate for a simple lack of capability. You just can't fake it until you make it!