A business lesson from Ol’ Bill Shakespeare
“A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!” – Richard III, Act 5, Scene 4
King Richard III, the storied villainous monarch of England who died in 1485, was supposed to have cried out for the one thing that would have given him a fighting chance in battle: a horse to replace the one he had lost. He didn’t secure one, fought the battle on foot, and ultimately lost not just the battle but his life.
“A horse….” was his last line of the play and those were the last words of his life. Shakespeare wrote it into his play in 1591, so it must be right, right?
A Talent Development Lesson
Historically accurate or not, “A horse…” is one of the great lines in all of English language literature, serving as a rich metaphorical lesson for any business leader who will heed it.
And that lesson is that it’s talent that wins – every time – in a fiercely competitive market. If your market is the battlefield and the horse is your talent (or part of it), then the message couldn’t be any more clear.
I used this metaphor in consulting to and advising leadership teams across 25 industries on the subject of talent development. As it evolved, there are 10 key factors that play critical roles in developing the talent that your organization pays so much to acquire. Here they are, in no particular order, as they are all indispensable:
This may seem like it goes without saying, but it doesn’t. Build the best possible leadership team, made up of brave people who are not afraid to take the first step into the wilderness. That’s the future and it’s where you’re going.
A leader must see the future, and successful leaders can see it before the rest of us do. They’re prophets first, messengers second, and then generals.
Is your organization built to succeed in today’s and tomorrow’s market? With the unprecedented nature, pace, and scope of change – witness A.I. – the answer is probably, to some extent or another, no. Organizations are becoming more decentralized, with bigger decisions in the hands of smaller teams located around the globe. Workdays and work weeks are changing, as is where you work, remotely or not. All of this matters to the talent you need to attract and retain.
This is one of the most overlooked forces. Are all departments, divisions, and teams working to the same goal? Do they all have the same – or parallel goals? Does the sales division, for instance, have an aggressive growth goal while production and manufacturing target consolidation and efficiency, thereby perhaps inhibiting sales’ performance? Are individuals across all departments incentivized in parallel? If not, you’ll feel it immediately. So will your talent.
It’s true that growth and innovation are born of creative dissatisfaction and turbulence, but there are limits to how much the organization can stand before the wheels come off. Finding the crossover point between turbulence and equilibrium is tricky. It’s probably the least scientific or methodical of all thee factors and requires more folksy knowledge of organizational lore than all the rest.
There’s an old French country recipe for rabbit stew that says, “First you much catch the rabbit.” This goes right back to what starts all this: talent acquisition. With all the criteria your organization uses to pick its crop of talent, there’s one question that isn’t asked often or prominently enough: “How likely is this individual to be receptive to all the initiatives we take?” And for future reference, “How likely will this individual be to carry them forward when assuming leadership roles?”
All the talent development initiatives in the world will fall on their faces if you haven’t got a plan to build your talent into the structure of the organization from day one. You recruited them; trust them. Get them into vibrant teams, give them responsibility and commensurate authority. Make sure they’re included in the very nature of the organization, or you’ll be getting resignation letters you don’t want.
“What if we invest in training and developing our people – and they quit?” asked the CFO. “What if we don’t – and they stay?” shot back the CEO. Build ongoing learning into your budgets, not just your staff development budgets, but your recruiting budgets. It’s as organic as you can be.
I’ve done as much advising on communication as I have on any other subject. In fact, I taught two graduate leadership courses for 15 years, and communication was at the heart of them. Surveys continue to show that communication is the most sought-after skill on the part of executives and recruiters – more so than any specific hard-skill expertise.
Finally, as advised to me by Dr, David Steele, former dean of the Silberman College of Business at Fairleigh Dickinson University and who was previously president of Chevron Latin America, leaders must exhibit the behavior they want to see in others. Like all the above.
There now. It took me 800+ words to get the point across. It took Shakespeare nine: “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!”
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