A colleague of mine related how he hired his personal assistant. In the job interview, he asked her why he should hire her. She replied simply, “Because I will make it my personal mission, every day, to make you shine”. What more could he ask for from a PA? So he hired her on the spot.
In my work, I come into daily contact with exceptional leaders and managers. I’m increasingly starting to notice a common trait among these managers. They adopt the same attitude as my colleague’s PA – but in reverse. These managers make it their personal mission, every day, to make their subordinates shine. They genuinely put the development of their subordinates above the short-term needs of the business. And, paradoxically, they are reaping the rewards.
A personal example
The best manager I ever worked for did this. Robert Keip took over a small division in a large retail bank and transformed it into one of the biggest contributors to profitability of all divisions. He did this in just five years, and with a team of less than forty people.
I remember interviewing an impressive young actuarial student to join my team. My concern was that this would be a very short-term hire. I knew he would be snapped up by one of the big insurers in under a year. Robert listened patiently to my concerns. “Hire him”, he said. “If he leaves, then so be it, we’ve done our part. Our job is to contribute to his future success”.
Robert would regularly ask me about my future career aspirations. He would then actively seek out opportunities and projects for me within the bank to develop the skills I needed. He did this even if it took me away from the work I was supposed to do for him. And he fully supported my plans to leave and start my own business.
A remarkable attitude
My company, FeedbackRocket.com, recently did some work for Mark Lamberti, one of South Africa’s most influential business leaders and a former finalist in the prestigious Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur competition. In the results presentation, Mark made an astonishing remark. He said that if one of his subordinates fails, then he asks himself “Where did I go wrong?” In other words, he takes personal responsibility for the failings of those he leads. This remarkable attitude was reflected in the ratings given by his subordinates. Mark’s score for the extent to which he develops the careers of his employees was off the charts.
Many managers view employees as a resource to be exploited – “I’m going to get as much out of you as I can”. Exceptional leaders, on the other hand, do the opposite. Their attitude is “I will ensure that you get as much out of yourself as you can”.
One might think that prioritizing employees’ career development – sometimes to the short-term detriment of the business – would negatively impact the bottom line. However, these two managers have achieved spectacular bottom-line growth, and created massive shareholder value in a relatively short space of time. How can this be?
Resolving the Paradox
I think the answer lies in the psychological contract that these leaders create with their subordinates. If I know that my manager is genuinely concerned about my development, then I’ll do my best to fulfill the potential that my manager sees in me. I’ll perform at my peak. And I’ll be fiercely loyal.
Yes, it might cause short-term disruptions to the business as talented people move on. But it has a hugely positive impact on those that are left behind. They see how their manager has helped their colleagues move to the next level. People know that their careers are being looked after and are further motivated to perform.
Finally, attracting new talent becomes much easier. My boss was a talent magnet. He had the pick of the best employees in the organization. Everyone wanted to work for him.
So to improve the performance of your business, focus intently on helping your employees fulfil their potential – even if it means pushing them out the door sooner. You’ll reap the rewards.
About the Author
Dr. Gavin Symanowitz is the founder of FeedbackRocket.com, an award-winning online innovation which enables important management feedback conversations that wouldn’t happen face-to-face.
He is an innovation thought leader and talks regularly on how companies can spot new opportunities, avoid corporate blind-spots and create blockbuster products. Read his blog at http://www.blockbusterinnovation.com/blog/