This weeks blog is 'live' from cafe de Ysbreeker in Amsterdam. The title could just as well have been ‘the story of Steven’ and although it obviously isn't, I’ll be telling his story in a little while.

This week I was doing some of the work that I most love doing: coaching managers to become managers of talent. A little over two weeks ago their talents had started in a talent development program that I helped build and deliver. Our first meeting that morning was to cover the basics of their roles as talent coaches. My dear and esteemed colleague Stefan Kuijken from Kip Coaching has introduced me to the approach of ‘leading from behind’. For now and into coming decade or so, the most effective leaders will lead from behind, not from the front — a phrase I’ve borrowed with gratitude from Nelson Mandela. In his autobiography, Mandela equated a great leader with a shepherd: “He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realising that all along they are being led from behind.”


The session with the managers went as well as I could have hoped. It was an engaging, alert and present group and energies were high. As we progressed well into the meeting a question popped up. One managers said she would love to have career paths for some of her talents, since it would offer them a measure of clarity, security and direction. And suddenly I thought: “let’s avoid this: at all costs”. I said so and proceeded to offer the story of Steven as an explanation.

Steven is a twenty something salesmanager, or I have to say: Steven used to be a twenty something salesmanager. Steven took part in the first talent development / management program I built for a client a few years back. He was exemplary in sales and he had a bright future ahead as salesmanager, or so everybody thought. Just a few months ago Els, another talent in the group, spoke up during one of our Dragons’ Den sessions and said: “I see a leader in you”. Although the idea surprised Steven at first, he went with it and a scant three weeks later, Steven was promoted into management.


The story of Steven shows me the incredible power our insights can have on each others’ destiny. The clarity of Els’ vision literally pushed Steven into another direction. This resonates with the findings of my interviews with top managers over the last decade. Each and every one of them had had at least one manager during their careers that offered a similar push. I am a huge fan of this approach to talent management.
Combine this approach with efforts to bolster and strengthen talents drive, ambition and self-confidence and we create a sustainable system where those with drive become visible. Career paths on the other hand may sound tempting, but they are a stop-gap solution for leaders and talents who don’t have it in them to spot and flourish talents or to push them into new horizons. I would avoid this approach to talent management: at all cost.

I’m curious what you think. What talent management approach would you embrace? Which ones do you avoid: at all cost? Let’s share our power of knowledge!