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Positive leaders understand the importance of creating conditions where individuals and team can do their best work and achieve their full potential. They see people not as resources or assets, but as key value-multipliers of the business.
They understand the importance of meeting 4 key needs of employees so that they can thrive at work. Starting at the base of the pyramid below, let’s look at each in turn:

Level 1: Physical and Psychological Safety

People require conditions where they feel safe, not just physically, but also psychologically. This means that they should feel the company cares about them and will minimize the risks of any harm to them, including emotional and mental suffering. The concept of psychological safety is becoming more popular now than when it was first coined in the 90s due to increased work pressures and the dizzying pace of change.
Having a workplace that is psychologically safe means that people feel able to show up at work every day without being embarrassed, marginalized, bullied, or unfairly disciplined. However, it also means that people are free to express their thoughts and emotions at work without worrying that they will be harshly judged or face other adverse consequences. People want to feel that they can count on their leader to look out for them and provide support, especially when tough problems arise that overwhelm them and lead to significant distress.


Steps leaders can take:

  1. Introduce a wellbeing strategy to ensure health and safety addresses mental and psychological, as well as physical safety.
  2. Ensure the company has clear policies to tackle bullying, victimisation, harassment, overuse of authority and other inappropriate conduct.
  3. Set up a safe helpline for people to use to report any unacceptable behaviour to an independent professional such as HR or a H&S specialist.
  4. Ensure you show empathy and compassion when people are experiencing mental distress or anxiety. Listen carefully and do not pass judgement or dish out lots of advice. Rather, ensure they know you have heard them and understand how they are feeling. Let them know they can count on your support and invite them to speak to HR, a counselling service or the company’s Employee Assistance Program helpline (if you have an EAP in place).

Level 2: Belonging

Everyone has a deep desire for belonging, at work and outside. They want to feel they are a valued part of their community or ‘tribe’, regardless of their background or differences. Belonging goes beyond acceptance and inclusion of diverse people, personalities, and perspectives. It involves giving people a voice in how their work is accomplished and in shaping the future of the team and organization.


Steps leaders can take:

  1. Build a team culture where people feel differences are appreciated, actively encouraged and respected.
  2. Learn to be more conscious about your biases. Tackle these head on by confronting erroneous and limiting assumptions and beliefs and getting to know people from backgrounds you are less familiar or comfortable with.
  3. Ensure everyone in your team has a voice during meetings, especially those who are more reserved or lacking confidence. One way of doing this is to bookend the start of regular team meetings with a 45-60 second update from everyone on their achievements the previous week. Similarly, we suggest you bookend the close of the meeting with a 45-60 second close-out on the most important action or reflection they are taking from the meeting.
  4. Ensure you build time for social activities where people can get to know one another better and deepen their connections. Ensure team socials and team building activities do not exclude people or make them feel inadequate based on their physical strength, age, religion, diet or other differences.

Level 3: Achievement

Most people have a deep drive for achievement and success. They want to do well and achieve their goals and personal development aspirations. They want to feel they are empowered to act and supported to be at their best.


Steps leaders can take:

  1. Find out what people’s aspirations and dreams are. Try to align these with the organisation’s tasks and goals.
  2. Set ambitious goals for people and show you believe in them. Positive belief goes a long way to motivate people, as was well illustrated in the famous classics, “Pygmalion” and “My Fair Lady”, a storyline that has been repeated in numerous modern movies for good reason. Research has consistently shown that when leaders regularly express their positive beliefs in team members talents and potential, performance is significantly improved.
  3. Provide regular encouragement and praise when you spot people doing good work. Apply the principle of “marginal gains” used in Olympic coaching by recognising not only big achievements, but also smaller improvements in effort and results. Remember that small shift in performance often lead to big leaps in performance over time.
  4. Provide regular and constructive performance feedback. This involves being honest, specific and helping the person understand what “great” looks like. Our AIM Feedback Process™ will help you improve the effectiveness of your feedback.

Level 4: Growth

People have an innate desire to learn and realize their full potential. They want to grow both personally and professionally.


Steps leaders can take:

  1. Provide coaching and development opportunities in line with people’s aspirations, strengths and improvement areas.
  2. Set up cross-team peer coaching and development groups to enable people to learn from one another and build connections beyond their immediate team or business area.
  3. Encourage people to adapt themselves and lean into the future by learning vital new skills like influencing, AI, empathy and curiosity, to ensure they are fit for tomorrow’s as well as today’s challenges.
  4. Cultivate a learning culture – one where everyone is expected to be open-minded and curious, own their learning, share ideas and insights and experiment with new and improved ways of working. Investing in your own learning and development is crucial as people won’t be as motivated to spend time developing themselves unless they see their leader and peers taking learning seriously.

Conclusion

Provided the company has a well-defined purpose and strategy, peak performance comes about when leaders hire talented people and provide them with the right conditions where they can do their best work while at the same time fulfilling their key needs. Positive leaders understand the importance of creating a climate where people can thrive at work by taking practical steps to improve their sense of safety, belonging, achievement and growth.

Organizations are increasingly helping their employees discover, develop, and deploy their talents more effectively to achieve greater performance, motivation, teamwork, and retention. This reflects a significant shift in mindset from a deficit-weakness talent management focus to a more positive, strengths-based one. However, the prescription is incomplete. Helping people to discover and use their talents more does typically drive better workforce outcomes, but it may also backfire in some instances. This is because of the dualistic nature of human talents. Just like jet engines, people’s natural talents harbour tremendous power to create positive energy and propel us forward towards our performance and career goals. However, they can also lead to unintended consequences or even complete failure when overused. 

What are overused talents?

We define overused talents as talents (or a combination of talents) that are over-used or used in excess, resulting in negative outcomes. Overused talents can be seen as weaknesses by others and lead to poor results, damaged relationships, and career derailment. Studies show that more people experience performance shortfalls and derail in their career because of overused talents rather than more obvious competency weaknesses. For example, when effectively applied, my Boldness talent (which has been hugely instrumental in my career success) means I take on risks and am prepared to challenge the status quo in support of new thinking and change. However, earlier in my career, I was far too eager to take on risky positions and challenged established views and assumptions head-on, without taking sufficient account of the audience and history. This behaviour was sometimes perceived as overpowering and overly challenging by others. One of my greatest talents was being overused and became a potential derailer. Through greater self-awareness of the risks associated with my Boldness talent, I have been able to apply it more skillfully.  

What gives rise to overused talents? 

There are a variety of internal and external factors that can cause people to overuse their talents including:

It is important to help people pinpoint specific triggers leading to limiting behaviours associated with overused talents, so they are more conscious of these underlying causes. By raising awareness of these triggers and how to replace unproductive habits with more effective ones, you can empower people to use their talents and skills more effectively.    

Why is it so important to tackle overused talents?

There are numerous benefits that arise when employees are more aware of their overused talents. Some of the most important include:

  1. When people are more aware of limiting behaviours associated with overused talents, they are empowered and motivated to improve their performance. They recognise that what they may have seen as fundamental character flaws or weaknesses are their natural talents that are being used ineffectively. This results in a more positive and open approach to learning and growth, giving rise to deeper and more meaningful changes in their behaviour.   
  2. People are more open to constructive and critical feedback when it is framed in the ‘language’ of overused talents. Tough feedback about weaknesses can elicit a whole range of defensive responses, especially from perfectionists and people with strong egos. I am not suggesting that conversations should be dishonest or should never broach the topic of weaker areas. However, as research has shown, the reality is that many examples or poor performance stem from overused talents.
  3. A focus on talents (and overused talents) within a team encourages a more appreciative and tolerant team willing to accept individual uniqueness and vulnerability. It helps team members recognize that all people tend to overuse their talents on occasion. For example, rather than seeing a person who is strong on precision or detail as “stuck in the weeds”, they will have a better understanding that this is simply the less desirable behaviours of the overused Precision talent. This empowers them to provide feedback to the person to dial back on their Precision when a more strategic perspective is called for. 

Raising awareness of overused talents 

The first step in managing and mitigating overused talents is to raise awareness of the limiting behaviours and impact of these, for the person, their team, and the organization. As a starting point, we typically encourage people to assess their talents and overused talents using a scientifically validated talent assessment like TalentPredix™ which can pinpoint specific behaviours that are most likely to limit effective performance. Once people have a good understanding of their talents and associated limiting behaviours, they can become more intentional and conscious about using their talents more selectively and effectively. 

Matching your talents to the needs of the situation

At TalentPredix™, we have found that for talents to be fully optimized and regarded as “strengths”, people need to develop the skill and adaptability to use their talents effectively across a range of situations. This can be expressed as:

Optimized talents = f (talents X skills X adaptability)

Using blended learning solutions, including assessment, facilitated workshops, and coaching, we work with employees to help them develop specific strategies and techniques to match their talents to the requirements of the situation. Some of these techniques include:

To ensure ongoing growth and positive change, we encourage people to invite regular feedback from their co-workers and other key stakeholders across different performance contexts. This ensures that the necessary adjustments can be made in the same way that a pilot needs constant feedback on environmental factors such as wind speed, weather conditions, air traffic, etc. to make safe and effective decisions about how best to fly their plane.  

To unleash the full potential of your people and empower them to achieve their goals, it is crucial that they understand how to apply their talents most effectively across different situations. It is equally important they understand and actively mitigate the limiting effects of their overused talents. With this holistic awareness, they can use their talents in a more conscious, careful, and competent way, enabling them to thrive at work and deliver extraordinary results.  

Please click here to get more information about TalentPredix™ and how to tackle overused talents.

Peter Drucker, often referred to as the “father of modern management”, claimed it is extremely difficult to measure potential. This is particularly true in the fast-changing world we now find ourselves in. However, there are numerous advantages to spotting and developing high potential leaders. Some of these include a stronger talent pipeline, filling more key positions with internal hires, better retention and improved progression of minorities and underrepresented groups.  So, what exactly is potential, and can it be accurately assessed? 

Leadership potential is the future performance a person is likely to achieve in a leadership role. It is a prediction of their future performance trajectory. And therein lies the major challenge – a person’s potential is dependent on a wide range of internal and external factors so measuring it is extremely difficult and prone to error. For example, factors such as career motivations, values, life changes, the presence of a mentor or sponsor, and culture fit can significantly impact a person’s potential to succeed in a leadership role. 

Most organizations use very crude and unscientific methods to spot and assess leadership potential. Some still place a disproportionally high emphasis on educational factors, favouring those from top universities or candidates with advanced business degrees when looking to hire new leaders or promote high potentials into leadership roles. In addition to the obvious biases that occur from such strategies, educational attainment and qualifications alone are generally unreliable predictors of leadership potential. They focus too narrowly on analytical intelligence and don’t consider other abilities that are better predictors of leadership success such as adaptability, perseverance, social and emotional intelligence and creative problem-solving. Other organizations promote their best technical and functional experts into leadership roles. However, there is a big difference between the abilities, behaviours, and motivations of technical and functional experts and those required to be an effective leader. As a result, this strategy often results in costly failures, including demoralised teams, unwanted turnover of talented individual contributors and performance shortfalls.   

Many organizations have adopted the well-known “9-Box Grid” to allocate talent into categories based on managers’ evaluations of performance and potential. However, many organizations never spend time defining what is meant by “potential” so measurement remains highly subjective and prone to all types of biases. Many companies also don’t stretch and develop people once they’ve been assigned a “high potential” rating. Therefore, this exercise never moves beyond a subjective rating process and does little to help the business spot, develop and retain talent. Another problem that often arises is that due to a lack of scrutiny and calibration of senior leaders’ ratings by Human Resources, the process does little to challenge old assumptions and stereotypes about what makes a good leader in the company. This can undermine opportunities to consider new and emerging leadership talents and qualities that are vital in the new world of work. It can also obstruct the progress of under-represented and minority groups into key leadership roles.     

Organizations can avoid some of these problems by putting in place a more scientific and objective process for assessing leadership potential based on the following 4 principles:

Measure their performance track record  

Many senior executives still favour traditional leadership traits like assertion, charisma and an outgoing style when looking for future leaders. However, there is little evidence that these characteristics are associated with good leadership, particularly in today’s fast-changing and complex world. In fact, they can lead to the appointment of narcissistic, self-serving and autocratic leaders who achieve short-term results at the expense of long-term sustainable growth and development of key talent. 

A far more effective approach is to measure the ability of high-potential managers and leaders to positively influence and coach others, their learning agility, and their skill in building high-performing teams that deliver great results. It is often the humble and curious grafters who show a real talent for building teams and getting the best out of others that are far more effective in leadership roles.  

To ensure a more objective measurement of current performance in these areas, companies should identify and regularly assess softer leadership behaviours as well as harder measures of performance. They should also provide opportunities for top leaders to come together at least twice a year to systematically evaluate the potential of high-potential candidates using a rigorous process to discuss and calibrate evaluations. To ensure this is a fair and objective process, we strongly recommend it is facilitated by a trained HR or external facilitator.

Apply work samples to supplement interviews and traditional tests

Despite exaggerated claims from many consultants and business psychologists, commonly used assessment methods (including personality and aptitude tests) are not a panacea as they are far less accurate in predicting future potential than in predicting performance in the short term. 

However, research provides promising findings that personality factors like high conscientiousness, openness to learning, resilience and emotional self-regulation do predict better leadership performance. Similarly, people who can think more analytically, creatively, and strategically often perform better as leaders. Therefore, well-established personality and aptitude tests should remain an important part of our toolkit to measure the potential of future leaders as they add incremental validity to objective, well-structured interviews. 

To strengthen measurement accuracy, companies should go beyond traditional tests and structured interviews, using well-designed work samples and simulations. As a result of advancements in technology (including machine learning and gamification) and behavioural sciences, the solutions on offer have never been greater. More commonly used work samples include situational judgement tests, role plays, analysis exercises, scenario challenges and strategy discussions. All these will provide you with additional insights on how future leaders are likely to handle the typical challenges and dilemmas of a leadership role.  

Give them stretch assignments 

This is one of the best ways to test potential as it provides a high potential leader/emerging leader with an opportunity to assume responsibility for challenging leadership tasks on a trial basis to see how they perform under pressure. Despite the benefits of this approach, it is often underutilized or poorly implemented. Common implementation problems include risk-averse cultures and lack of adequate delegation, inadequate coaching and mentoring and poor design and application of criteria to evaluate performance resulting in subjectivity and unconscious bias. 

Stretch projects can be team-based or individual. We typically recommend the former as these enable potential leaders to collaborate with team members and other stakeholders to overcome real business dilemmas and challenges. This enables HR and senior leaders to evaluate high potentials’ teamwork, joint problem solving, influencing and emotional intelligence, as well as their individual contribution. 

Peer feedback 

Although there is mixed evidence about the effectiveness of multi-rater feedback surveys, a robust peer feedback approach should be considered in the mix of approaches used by companies to assess potential for leadership roles. Such surveys also improve leaders’ self-awareness and self-improvement by providing valuable feedback about their strengths, potential weaker areas and ‘blind spots’ that might derail their progress. If you decide to use a multi-rater or 360-degree survey, we strongly recommend this is designed by behavioural scientists who can ensure it is well-constructed and measures behaviours that are relevant to success in leadership roles within your company. 

It is extremely tough to accurately measure the potential of future leaders and any consultant who claims otherwise is misleading you. However, this does not mean that it isn’t worth the investment to bring more rigour and science to the discovery and development of your future leaders. By combining some of the techniques outlined above, you can ensure you improve the accuracy and consistency of your assessments while at the same time providing leaders/future leaders with meaningful development opportunities. 

The best employers use a variety of creative and novel ways to attract, inspire and engage their people. Here are 21 proven ideas to get you started:

  1. Start a “lunch roulette” – encourage employees to have an in-person or virtual lunch with someone they’ve never met yet so they can get to know them better.
  2. Put in place a “bungee program” to encourage people to engage in cross-department project work and short-term assignments.
  3. Allow people to take the day off on their birthday, or if it falls on the weekend, allow them to take the Friday or Monday off instead.
  4. Introduce a generous referral program with attractive prizes as well as cash payouts for referring new candidates into the company. Most referral programs are as dull as dishwater, make them fun and engaging!
  5. Introduce a “Take 3 stretch project” program enabling employees to apply to be assigned to work on new, high-value projects for up to 3 months.
  6. Arrange an individual or team-based “moonshots program” for employees to come up with radical and creative ideas that will improve the business. Hold a “Dragon’s Den” style pitch event so top management can evaluate the ideas and award people/teams coming up with the best ideas. Award prizes to the winners and provide stretch opportunities to people to participate in implementing their ideas.
  7. Ensure that at least 80% of key vacancies are filled internally.
  8. Invite customers to in-person or virtual meetings to share their stories and explain their changing preferences and needs. Nothing beats an inspirational client story to create a more purpose-driven and customer-centric culture.
  9. Run brainstorming or brainwriting workshops or “hackathons” to promote creative thinking to overcome challenging problems or come up with new opportunities.
  10. Give employees the opportunity to ask the CEO (or another representative from the top team) any question by arranging a monthly online or in-person “Question Time with Top Management” Q&A sessions. Ensure questions are sent to a Question Time email address or WhatsApp group in advance of the session. Record the session and upload the recording on the company’s Intranet site.
  11. Arrange “lunch and learns” or “success in 60” sessions for staff where staff can share their expertise and talents in a broad range of topic areas, not just work-related skills. You’ll be amazed at how many gurus across a wide range of subject areas such as cooking, yoga, mindfulness, hiking, dog training, etc. you have in your team!
  12. Start Friday mornings (every fortnight or once a month) with a voluntary breakfast get-together. The Scandinavians have this ritual down to a fine art and it works wonders! Believe me, nothing beats coffee, a few pastries and informal conversation with your co-workers to start the day on a high note.      
  13. Arrange a simple networking evening so people across different areas of the business can get to know one another better. 
  14. Stage an internal “work fair” or “work festival” so people from different business areas can get to know one another’s work and achievements better.
  15. Host fun in-person or online “innovation labs” to encourage employees to come together to generate breakthrough ideas and solutions. 
  16. Invest in a flexible and advanced online learning solution like https://degreed.com/ so employees can develop their own skills in a way that suits their schedule.
  17. Gather regular employee feedback on how they view their day to day experiences and how engaged they are using user-friendly platforms like https://www.cultureamp.com and https://www.officevibe.com. This will enable you to build a better culture by listening to your employees’ voice.
  18. Encourage all managers to start each team meeting with a lightening round of everyone’s successes and achievements since the last meeting. This never fails to get a meeting off to an energized start that grabs people’s attention.
  19. Start a company volunteering and social giving program. Invite employees who are most motivated about making a positive difference to get involved in co-ordinate your program. Allow them to organize volunteering and fundraising events (e.g., walks, runs, cycling events, skills-related direct support, etc.) for your chosen charity/charities. The key to the success of these programs is to build a strong partnership with your chosen charity/charities and get as many people involved as possible. Check out https://wearematchable.com/, a brilliant new organization that matches employees with innovative volunteering opportunities around the world.  
  20. Give your office space a refresh after the long Covid crisis. Welcome staff back by inviting them to come up with ideas to improve and redecorate their office space so it is conducive to great teamwork and productivity. Some of the best offices I’ve visited have been designed with the involvement of employees.
  21. Run career development workshops to help people plan and implement a focused and achievable career development pathway after Covid. Use a talent assessment tool like www.talentpredix.com to help them discover and optimize their unique talents, career motivations and values. 

We’d love to hear about creative things your organization does or practices you’ve seen work elsewhere, to add to this list. Please share your ideas and comments with us and we’ll circulate these so everyone can cultivate better, more positive and fun workplaces.