What Kind of Leader Attracts the Best Talent?

what kind of leader attracts the best talent

Once again, Google has topped Fortune magazine’s list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For.”  Most people assume that Google tops the list because of their great benefits and all of the fun and perks. But that’s just part of the equation.

Google understands that people don’t leave companies; they leave leaders. Google is building leaders that are so good, they’re unforgettable. And why do they do it? In the words of Laszlo Bock, Google’s senior vice president of people operations,

“We want the best talent working for us. Talented workers want to make big things happen and advance their careers. They press and produce, disregard and defy, question and create. These people want to work for leaders, not managers. And they ask the question that managers fear most: Why.

Talent seeks out other talent. So what kinds of leaders attract the best talent? What leaders have a reputation that the very best people are lining up to work for them? Generally, they possess many of these qualities:

1. Passion. 

Human nature makes it very difficult to walk away from something you are passionate about. Talented people want to be part of something bigger. They want to be able to say, “I helped create that.” Great leaders recognise this and capitalise on it. You see, you can’t rev up talent with a rah-rah speech, no matter how much conviction you have. Talented people want to know that they’re part of a greater purpose, with leaders who have a clear vision and strategy. They want to see their ideas and work produce something significant.

2. Experience.

Everyone has to start somewhere. But talented people really care about where they want to go. And they’ll choose you if they believe you can get them there. Trust me, they’ve done their homework long before they sit down for the first interview. Your best people want to climb. Give back and make it worth their while. The fact is, you’re growing your “tree,” preparing your protégés for greater responsibilities. Jobs and good fortune are temporary. You may need your prized pupils for an opportunity some day. Pay it forward now.

3. They are who they are. 

You never have to wonder with good leaders. You know what to expect. They’re reliable and responsive. In adversity, they remain composed and focused. They gather facts and take action. Bottom Line: They understand that people take their cues from them. And they act in the same way they want their people to react.

You’ll hear experts claim talent, strategy and culture makes-or-breaks companies. That’s true in the macro sense. In the micro world, success is all about relationships. That starts with trust. And trust is grounded in consistency and character. The best leaders are genuine. You always know where you stand with them. They don’t carry hidden agendas or say one thing to you and something else to another. They don’t lie, and they don’t make false promises. Their people don’t have to exert energy trying to figure out their motives or predict what they’re going to do next.

4. They play chess, not checkers. 

In checkers, all the pieces are basically the same. In chess, each piece has a unique role, unique abilities, and unique limitations. Great leaders are like great chess players. They recognise what’s unique about people. They know their strengths, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes, and they use these insights to draw the very best from each individual. To lead talented people, your job is to level obstacles, to clear a path free of distractions (and excuses). You streamline processes, find resources, and keep the political nonsense at bay. Bottom line: You figure out what holds them back and fix it. By putting their interests front-and-center, you eventually make work easier on yourself too.

5. Courageous.

Want to know the worst word ever associated with a leader? Gutless. Talent expects their leaders to have clout. I’m not talking about those sycophants who go along to get along. They may be savvy and practice good politics, but ultimately no one respects them. Courageous leadership means you confront issues, no matter how hard it may be. You stand up for what’s best for the business, customers, and employees. You manage up by championing the important ideas and picking the right battles. You’re deft when the stakes are small and direct when they’re larger. And you’re oh so visible by staying out front. In business, that gives you the credibility that commands attention and compels others, to take you seriously.

6. Recruiting.

Talent is drawn to other talent. And the ability to attract the best people is a way leaders measure themselves. Great leaders are constantly looking for new talent who not only fit with what they need now…but more importantly where they want to go. These days, anyone can attract good people from failing competitors and disrupted industries. Question is, can these leaders keep that talent productive and happy? Either way, you’ll have turnover. But would you rather be a manager who squeezes people into roles or a leader who grooms talent to become bigger than their roles? Believe it: Word gets out. And when you get results and help people get where they want to go, a funny thing happens. Talent goes on the look out for you.

7. Openness.

Talent is always looking for a way to say yes instead of no. So good leaders listen. They aren’t afraid of bad news and criticism, even when it reflects poorly on them. They’re open to constructive disagreement and debate, knowing it ultimately leads to possible alternatives. They don’t hold grudges, focusing instead on what was learned and moving forward. In short, great leaders absorb input and take action. Why does that matter? Even when they lose, talent knows their voices were heard and the process was fair. And that keeps them thinking, creating, and coming forward.

8. Listen and coach. 

The best leaders are always talking to their people. They take the time to listen and coach, knowing neglect only leads to stagnation, and disengagement. They provide regular, constructive and honest feedback on performance, knowing the best people crave candidness and loathe sugarcoating. Most important, these leaders pay attention. They care about their people, stay in touch and give guidance. That’s how they know when to push and when to pull back. Bottom line: The best leaders make their reports feel valued – or inspire them do those things that’ll ultimately make them feel better and make your business run better.

9. Empower and don’t micromanage. 

I was speaking with a notable leader a few weeks ago and one thing he said really stuck with me, “I always hire the best people. Then I get out of their way and let them do their jobs”. Talent doesn’t colour inside the lines. And they quickly tire of taking orders. That’s why top leaders give their people ownership. They don’t stand over them. They get out of the way, turning them loose to explore, test, discover, and interpret. Their role is to ask questions and guide their people towards finding choices.

The best leaders operate from trust. They don’t constantly second guess. They understand you can’t control every variable. Through their belief and support, they give their most effective people permission to do what they do best: make things happen. In return, they get their loyalty.

10. Excellence.

Great leaders don’t demand excellence. That’s already established by the example they set. Put yourself in an employee’s shoes. When you work for a true leader, you know the bar is set high and big things are expected – every day. Your leader is always asking, “Is this the best we can do?” He or she makes you set goals to keep you focused and out of ruts. She pushes continuous learning to keep you sharp. And she demands results, regardless of precedents, politics, and predicaments.

Talented people are naturally rebellious. To them, popularity is nice; influence is a means; acting honourably is the ideal; BUT getting things done is the point. And the best people want to work for someone who shares that spirit – and has the juice to turn ideals into business-as-usual.

11. Bring out the best.

Smart people don’t like to live in a dimly lit world of boredom. Great talent is wired to improve, enhance, and add value. They are built to change and innovate. Talented people have good thoughts, ideas, insights, and observations. They need to contribute. Smart leaders engage people’s creativity.

You see, the best leaders don’t just hire people for today. They also weigh their potential. They keep their eyes open for personal interests, since that’s where their people will ultimately find their underlying abilities. Knowing that, leaders seek opportunities to help their talent build confidence. In short, superior leaders see what others can’t because they look for it. And they push their people to a level they couldn’t envision on their own. And they reap the rewards as a result.

* Image: Touchstone pictures

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