Leadership Blueprint: Developing Talent

Leadership Blueprint: Developing Talent
Summary: Organizations that focus on recruiting, developing, and retaining talent are more successful. As a leader, you are responsible for developing talent in your organization by defining high-value roles, staffing the "blind side," seeking diversity, protecting your mavericks, and building the bench.

Developing Talent: Seek Diversity And Protect Your Mavericks

Leadership has transformed over the last couple of years. It will continue to transform as leaders face unprecedented complexity and change both externally and internally in their organizations. This series of articles titled "The Leadership Blueprint" offers a blueprint on critical elements of leadership that you, as a Learning & Development (L&D) leader, can adopt and adapt to your organizational contexts. The series focuses on essential leadership functions, including driving digital transformation, leading people, harnessing data, driving culture change, and concentrating on the future, among others. This article focuses on the four key tactics you need to develop talent.

With the proliferation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning, developing talent is now more critical than ever. Organizations that focus on recruiting, developing, and retaining talent are more successful. These tactics will help you get started:

Define The High-Value Roles In The Organization

Research by McKinsey reveals that leaders need to be crystal clear as to which roles bring the most value to an organization. Not surprisingly, the Pareto rule applies here, whereby 20% of the roles deliver 80% of the value in an organization. You will need to clearly define the responsibilities, tasks, alignment, and skillset required to succeed in each role. Next, you will need to identify the top 20% of employees in your organization and then match as much as possible the critical roles with the 20% of top employees' skill sets. If you lack star employees, you will need to hire them from outside. Key leadership attributes for these roles include enthusiasm, intelligence, flexibility, growth mindset, and being results driven.

Staff High-Value Roles' Blind Side

Borrowing from football, the next most valuable role on a football team, after the quarterback, is the left tackle (or correct tackle if the quarterback is left-handed). The job of the left tackle is to protect the quarterback's blind side. Similarly, in an organization, you will need to identify the left tackles for each high-value role and staff them. Often, these roles include finance, analytics, digital, operations, supply chain, and regulatory, among others. To demarcate the blind side for each high-value role, you will need to examine and prioritize the significant risks to that role and then define the mitigants to the risks. The roles that best deliver the mitigants are your 'left tackle' roles. One such role of great importance in any organization is the role of the Chief Financial Officer (CFO).

Seek Diversity

As a leader, you must seek diverse talent to staff your most critical roles. The research is detailed on diversity: organizations who practice it are more successful and perform better. As such, you will need to seek talent that is diverse across all possible elements, including gender, race, age, sexual orientation, background, expertise, and experience, so that you can optimize your team and your bench. Of course, diversity is insufficient without equity, inclusion, and belonging, so you will need to ensure your succession plan aligns with your DEI&B strategy.

Protect Your Mavericks

A very well-known maverick is the character of Capt. Pete Mitchell, portrayed by actor Tom Cruise in the movie Top Gun, recently reprised in Top Gun Maverick. The characteristics of a maverick include an innovative mindset, a disdain for structure, a relentless passion for excellence, and breaking the rules. Mavericks also are known for occasionally not fitting in with the crowd. The former undersecretary of the Navy, Honorable James "Hondo" Geurts, always says that an organization serious about innovating and growing to meet customer needs should also actively protect its mavericks. In his book Originals: How non-conformists move the World, Adam Grant defines mavericks as the rebels, the con-conformists, and the rule breakers "immune to fear, rejection, and ridicule." To protect mavericks, you will need to empower them and their teams to lead high-visibility innovation projects; you will need to recognize and praise them; mentor them, and foster a culture of agile and continuous learning. It is essential to highlight here that mavericks who go to extremes with their behavior eventually become a liability to the organization instead of an asset. It is best that they are identified early and relieved of their role and duties before it is too late.

Invest In A Succession Plan

As a leader, you need to be thinking about a succession plan for the critical roles identified earlier and define a 3 to 5-year timeline for high-potentials to transition into those vital roles. The CEO of DBS Bank, Piyush Gupta, discusses how he collaborates with the Chief Human Resources Officer to identify the necessary talent who could be trained to take on critical value-adding roles within three to five years. As such, he says that they constantly review the talent and ask questions along the lines of "Who could do this job today and who could do it in 3-5 years and how do we get them there". Conversely, JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon discusses how at his bank, they review who in the critical roles has become complacent or is not a good fit and take swift action to remedy. Organizations that are successful in developing talent are also successful in recruiting and retaining talent; they achieve this by being data-driven. A data-driven succession plan can be vital to an organization's growth potential because you can manage what you can measure well.


In the war for talent, the organization that is serious about developing talent eventually wins. To develop the talent, you need to identify the most critical roles in the organization and staff them with intelligent, dynamic, and innovative leaders. You will also need to identify the threats to each of these roles and define the blind side to success. Next, you will need to identify the mitigants to these risks and those roles that provide those mitigants and essentially protect the high-value functions, enabling them to succeed. You will need to protect your mavericks and continuously build your bench by investing in a succession plan.