I’d like to go back to some of the leadership lessons of Jack Stahl, author of Lessons on Leadership: The 7 Fundamental Management Skills for Leaders At All Levels. Stahl writes among other things about developing people and says from the start that the people in one section of Arthur Andersen, employees on a team, “understood the technical aspects of his or her job and communicated effectively with other team members. As a result, the closing process [year-end financial closing process] was completed seamlessly, in a cost-efficient manner, and under tight time constraints.”
He goes on to say what some other authors have said: “The most effective leaders focus tremendous energy on hiring and supporting strong performers, in order to build the team they need to achieve organizational goals.” I think Stahl reveals one of the most significant truths in business today: managers absolutely, positively must pay attention to their top performers. What happens, however, from time to time is that even the stars in a manager’s group might not always perform their best. Or maybe they’re stuck and don’t know how to solve a problem. I think some managers may grow impatient with their top performers when this happens. Of course that’s the last thing they should do. As Stahl writes, managers “need to devote time to interact directly with them to show that you value their success and are personally willing to help them achieve it.” Here’s something else: when manager invest in their people this way, those employees remember the investment and then give even more of themselves to help their managers achieve success. When someone believes in you and challenges you and then sticks by you there’s an immense payoff and it comes in the form of plain, old hard work.
Here are Stahl’s seven basic techniques for leaders to apply in order to successful develop their people:
1. Comprehend the difference between “core skills” and “exposure.”
2. Create opportunities for both “project” and “process” experience.
3. Use an effective model for feedback and appraisals.
4. Utilize control systems as development tools.
5. Be situational in your management style.
6. Manage compensation strategically.
7. Use mistakes strategically.
One of the things that Stahl recommends is that managers coach the people they believe in, “encouraging them early in their careers to seek a variety of jobs and projects, where they have the opportunity and enough time in each role to learn the core skills that will be critical to achieving success throughout their careers.” But too often either employees want to be where they perceive the action to be (although that not be where they are going to learn) or managers assume that their top performers don’t need coaching. If you’re a manager reading this, consider what you might miss if you don’t make the time to talk with your top performers. Even if you think they’re doing great, they might have something to tell you, something that without their knowledge you may never come to know.