Releasing the Potential of All

By Mark Anderson

How will you cultivate great leadership to drive superior performance? In this article, the author elaborates on the importance of unleashing the individual strengths of employees – which is a defining feature of a leadership that is truly outstanding.

It’s commonplace in discussions about leadership and management to place a strong emphasis on unlocking the potential of all colleagues, not just those identified as high-fliers. This is becoming seen as increasingly critical as we enter an era of unparalleled technological change which is likely to render many current jobs obsolete and create many new type of jobs not thought of today. Add to that the increasingly ageing population, bringing with it the practical and financial need to work longer, and we have an employment cocktail demanding the very best development of and utilisation of skills.

But it’s not clear that many organisations are ready to meet this challenge. Too many rely on outdated approaches to so-called “talent management”. Too often this is about categorising colleagues into pre-determined groups, at the apex of which are high-fliers destined for greater roles, increased responsibility and ascension up the hierarchy. I have written elsewhere about the difference between leadership and management (The Leadership Book, FT Publishing, 2e 2013). Talent management which follows this kind of categorisation process – often in the name of identifying the “leaders of tomorrow” – is actually an example of management not leadership, because it focusses on the process more than the outcome.

The very best leadership happens when those in leadership roles (actually anyone with a responsibility for teams) recognise that they are like the conductor of an orchestra coaxing and inspiring the very best performances from all players. At the same time, they demonstrate the essential humility which acknowledges that each individual player has an expertise and skillset the leader themselves can never match. In this sense, the best leaders are jacks of all all trades but masters of none.

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About the Author

Mark Anderson is Chief Executive and Vice Chair of MACAT International, and Chair of London Metropolitan University, Bibliotech and Created Education. From 2014-2016 he was MD of Pearson UK. He is a Cambridge Fellow in Science & Policy and the author of The Leadership Book (FT Publishing, 2e, 2013).


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