The Changing Approach to Leadership

Building Better Managers Podcast Episode #47: How to Avoid the Dreaded Talent Cliff with Jennifer Thornton

The talent cliff is a threat to organizations everywhere. But it doesn’t need to be. In this episode, talent management and leadership expert Jennifer Thornton joins the podcast to help answer some of the most critical questions facing businesses in 2022: How are you going to attract and recruit top new talent? How will keep your high performers engaged, motivated, and, importantly, not burnt out? What does a realistic five-year plan look like for your talent?

In this episode:

Meet Jennifer Thornton

  • Jennifer Thornton has developed her expertise in Talent Strategy & Leadership Professional Development over her exciting 20+ year career as an HR Professional.
  • She’s led international teams across Greater China, Mexico, the U.K., and the U.S. to expand into new markets, managing franchise retailers, and developing key strategic partnerships – all while exceeding business objectives and financial results.
  • Jennifer is a sought-after business strategist, specializing in startups and large value-based organizations. She assists her clients in building talent strategies that complement their business strategies to ensure exponential growth.

The Talent Cliff

  • A Talent Cliff often happens in quick, fast-growing companies. Typically the few people who start the organization, their skill set outruns or out-exceeds the actual need for the business. That’s how you get it off the ground, you have more skills, and the business actually needs to manage it. And so you use all of that extra kind of skill set, that extra horsepower, to really drive your business.
  • What happens next is that when the business takes off, if they don’t continue to invest just as heavily into their people, the team starts to struggle. When the company starts to struggle, we see leaders go into fear, and fear-based leadership can lead to communication and project management issues that kind of spiral out of control.
  • Your top performers may choose to leave because they don’t want to work in a highly directive, dysfunctional environment, and your talent kind of “goes off the cliff.”

The Changing Approach to Leadership

  • The first research that was put into leadership was a concept called the Great Man. In the early 1900s, it was the belief that only certain people were born with the characteristics that are needed for leadership. We then saw the development of leadership as directive or “command and control” – you do exactly this at exactly this time. That made sense because we were doing jobs where multiple people kind of did the same thing over and over again. So a lot of factory line work.
  • Even in the 50s & 60s, the concept of leadership was highly directive.
  • The world’s a little different today, the people sitting around the table look a little different than they did during the great man leadership concept, and there’s this kind of collision of old school leadership in a new working environment. And it’s breaking down quite a bit.
  • COVID has shattered what was already cracked. In today’s world, we really need to start to think about leadership differently and start to work with the neuroscience of the brain, instead of against it, because most of our old school leadership techniques are very fear-based and are working against the basic neuroscience of the brain.

How Managers Can Adapt & Thrive

  • When we start to elevate through our career, we start to associate that dopamine hit, we start associating at the manager level, “What am I good at?” Then we get to a higher level, we kind of typically for a while “manage down” because we haven’t reassessed what should be good at with these new responsibilities? That can compound as someone moves up.
  • We know that the “Great Man” doesn’t work, but then what do we do? We have to have a direction to move in. What we are seeing now is organizations really thinking about their language. It’s important for leaders to ask, “What’s the one thing I can do every single day?” A great place to start is to start reducing fear in the workplace. There are many great examples of these assumptions where we didn’t listen to our people, we weren’t open to new ideas, and it hurt the business. So reduction of fear is really where we’re going with leadership.
  • We’re also in a world where technology and information changes very quickly. If you think you’ve become an expert, then you have already started to slide backwards. This rapid change of information, technologies and organizational priorities creates fear, overwhelm and burnout. It’s a huge problem.
  • Being fluid in your leadership is incredibly important, and that may be very different than what we’ve been taught. We’ve been taught to be in control, the boss knows everything. But in today’s world, if you are a leader and you think you know more than people on your team, then you are in trouble. The person closest to the work is closest to the technological changes.
  • The traits of our future leaders include leading people who do jobs that you don’t know and can’t do. Technology just changes too fast, and that’s where we start to create a sense of insecurity and fear.
  • Psychological safety comes from being nimble, it comes from being fluid in your leadership and really being open to change in your conversations. It is also a tremendous tool to reduce burnout.

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