Today’s Managers: The Caregivers of Tomorrow’s Talent

June 29, 2016

This guest post was contributed by Jill Kelly, Chief Communications Officer, DigitasLBi.

I just came back from the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, and it is abundantly clear that creativity is alive and well and remains the visible currency for humanity to express itself. Cannes Grand Prix winners The Next Rembrandt (JWT for ING) and Justino (Leo Burnett for Spanish Lottery) are elegant, irresistible examples of such an expression.  

Less clear, however, is the future of the talent who will create these expressions. But as The Next Rembrandt taught us, the instrument of creation can sit within a human hand or the 1s and 0s of intelligent software inside hardware.  So what does the future of talent look like? Who is that ideal person? Are they T-shaped? Pi-shaped? Or the oh-so-desirable comb-shaped? (For the record, I prefer to use a comb to excise the little pills off my wool sweaters, or for the traditional application of keeping one’s hair tidy.)  

And perhaps to understand the talent of tomorrow, we must look today at a particular segment of that talent—the managers (or anyone in a position of managing a team of one or more). They are our talent caregivers who discover, attract, keep, motivate, and grow future talent. The adage (paraphrased) of one doesn’t leave a job, one leaves the boss, or one is drawn to the manager, not the job is truer today than it was yesterday. With expanding employment options and millennial job jumping, the role of today’s manager as a talent magnet and a human centrifugal force that binds (or breaks) a team is not to be underestimated.

Yet, sadly, inadvertently, we do just this. At the Cannes Festival that concluded last Saturday, I observed three consistent characteristics of an unforgettable (for the right reasons), inspired, and inspiring manager.

1. Ask Good Questions, Motivated by a Genuine Desire to Understand

I came home recently to find my 6 year-old son—Clyde—drawing circles on his butt with a red marker. When I asked him: “why are you drawing on your butt?”, he isn’t-it-so-obvious-mom responded: “I didn’t have any paper.” I asked my son a shallow question. It was more of an accusation disguised as a question, with a response that disarmed me immediately. A good manager will ask his/her employees good, toothy questions that surfaces patterns of what motivates them, worries them, excites them, etc. From understanding comes empathy and an individual talent management strategy that will bring out the best in an employee.

As an industry we pride ourselves on understanding consumers best. Let’s turn that mirror inwards, starting with good questions.   

2. Be Open to and Champion Other People's Ideas

Sam Ball, Creative Director of M&C Saatchi said on the Cannes Entertainment stage: “Great ideas aren’t in you. They are around you.” They are inside the diverse experiences of your team. Your 76 year-old grandmother. Your 6 year-old son. And don’t just be open to others' ideas but champion them. An idea’s survival is squarely dependent on the guardian who will fight for it. Be the idea guardian for your people.  They will never, ever forget how your commitment to their idea made them feel—proud, protected, and valued.

3. Be Disruption 

How many times have we heard leadership or managers talk about taking risks, embracing change, welcoming the disruptors? And of those, how many of them are disruptors themselves; sticking out their necks and exposing their own skin to the heat and challenges of a disruptive idea? My guess is that it’s practiced far less than it is preached. At a breakfast event hosted by The Economist last week, Jonathan Mildenhall, CMO of Airbnb, shared an intriguing idea of having a Razzies award before Cannes Festival week to remind us to stop making bad ads. And the audience responded. They applauded not just because of the idea, but because inherent in this idea is an industry leader (and manager) taking a stand for creative standards.

Be the behavior you preach.

As for me, the next time my son wants to draw, perhaps the better question will be:“What will you create today?”

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