Be the Example

As an executive and teaming coach for over 20 years I have seen the boom and bust of talent development.  This boom and bust typically parallels the overall economy, but it also often follows the fortunes of individual firms resulting from challenging financial situations or changes in control from a merger or acquisition.

While getting and retaining top talent is commonly expressed as a priority, it is talent and, particularly the development of talent, that often bears a significant share of organizational budget reductions when times are tough.  That said, nothing replaces the importance of developing people.  Developing people means that in many cases it is up to the you, the leader or manager, to develop that talent.

How do you develop that talent?  As Peter Drucker, one of the best-known management thought leaders, said, “a superior who works on his own development sets an almost irresistible example.”  To paraphrase his words, “a leader who works on his or her own development sets a compelling example.”  What can a leader do today under budget or other resource constraints?

Here are three areas where you can “walk the talk” of personal development and set the example for others:


Your Calendar

Where are you spending your time?  Is it exclusively attending company meetings, responding to emails, reading internal reports, and dealing with existing business/client issues of the day?  Or does your schedule involve reading, researching, discussing such things as new technologies, social-political trends, emerging industries, consumer dynamics, and global issues?  Are you in discussion with consumer groups and organizations well outside your company’s traditional sphere?  What patterns are you seeing?  How are you distilling the information, sharing it with others on your team and across your organization, and using it to make proactive decisions?

Much has been written, especially this year, about the importance of anticipating disruption, recognizing the influences that will affect your business model.  Leaders should demonstrate the importance of building a calendar that helps spot trends, identifying patterns that may disrupt. When it comes to advocating for being proactive and anticipating disruption, your calendar should “walk the talk” by showing with whom you’re spending your time, what you’re reading, and how you are distilling and acting.


Your Network

How diverse is your network?  Is it primarily within a narrow sphere of internal colleagues, existing customers, and suppliers?  Or does it include individuals outside the normal day-to-day reach of your business model?  Does it include individuals from other races, ethnicities, countries, cultures, income levels, educational backgrounds, sexual orientation, age categories, or political affiliation?  How well do you build relationships with people possessing widely differing perspectives?  To what extent do you bring these perspectives into designing strategy, setting values, enabling creativity sessions, and leading innovative problem-solving.

Leaders can set the example for their team members by demonstrating their personal commitment to building diverse relationships with people very different from themselves.  They can show how valuing the perspectives and learning from these relationships enable better solutions.


Your Conversations

What are the conversations you are having with your team members?  Are you reinforcing practices, approaches, and mindsets that helped make you successful in the past but may not going forward?  Are you willing to show others that you are willing to try new approaches?  Willing to make mistakes, admit them and move on?  Are you having conversations with others about their futures, their interests, their concerns, their needs, and ways you can help?

Doing these things will not necessarily take the place of leadership development programs, training, or formal coaching programs. But doing these things will give you the opportunity to demonstrate your interest in your team members as individuals and your commitment to their growth and development.


Times are tough.  Rather than allow talent development to slip as a priority, leaders can set the example for now and always.