“The war for talent,” a phrase that is associated with Tom Peters, is based on the notion that there are only so many people with not merely the skills and experience that an organization needs, but that these select few have them at a level that exceeds the norm, and therefore they must be aggressively pursued.
Nowadays one might think that there is a “war of attrition” in most organizations or, at an individual level, a “war to hold onto one’s job until (a) the buyout is sufficiently substantial or (b) until bona-fide retirement is achieved.” Not much to win.
Consequently, there is what can be described as “trench warfare.” But this does not involve actual fighting, not even organizational in-fighting. Rather, it consists of people digging a trench and hiding in it, hoping that no one will notice that they’re there to eliminate. Said a different way: there tends to be a “bunker mentality” among people when employment is tenuous. Keep your head down and wait for it to blow over. (Sure.)
This is the wrong approach for people to take. Even downsizing companies need people with talent and leadership capabilities. And while some short-sighted managers are eliminating people who are truly valuable as regards what they contribute to the organization, those leaders who recognize that the need to compete is going to get harder, not easier, downturn notwithstanding, still seek and empower talented individuals.
Imagine having a team, be it for bowling or tug-o-war. When it is time to make the cut, who do you keep: The people who perform or the ones who (barely) show up? Do you want to win? If not, why even get in the game at all?
Seth Godin is perhaps best known in marketing circles (http://www.autofieldguide.com/articles/wip/0608wip07.html). But he also belongs in consultative circles, ala the aforementioned Mr. Peters. His most-recent book, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us (Portfolio; $19.95) is a leadership book in spades. “Management,” he writes, “is about manipulating resources to get a known job done. Burger King franchises hire managers. They know exactly what they need to deliver and they are given resources to do it at low cost. Managers manage a process they’ve seen before, and they react to the outside world, striving to make that process as fast and as cheap as possible.” To be sure, management is an important function, especially in the process side of the business, not just in making burgers. “Leadership, on the other hand, is about creating change you believe in.” Yes, there’s that vexing word, change. “Managers make widgets. Leaders make change,” Godin claims, then goes on to proclaim, “the future belongs to our leaders, regardless of where they work or what they do.” Widgets are important. But they’re commodities. And it is difficult to be successful in this undifferentiated arena.
To be a leader is not without risk. But the risk is mitigated by the potential reward. And “leader” implies that there are those who are being led. Those people are the “tribes” of the book’s title. Tribes, Godin says, are those who have a shared interest and a means of communicating that shared interest. And that interest is largely defined by the person whom they choose to follow.
Godin believes that what you do to earn your daily bread is impor-tant, but if that’s what it is all about, then insufficient. “Can you imagine Steve Jobs showing up for the paycheck?” He submits, “The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there.” He adds: “People will follow.” The tribe.
Note his insistence on action: Do, go. “This isn’t about having a great idea (it almost never is),” he writes. “Nope, this is about taking initiative and making things happen.” And you can’t do that if what you’re doing is keeping your head down.—GSV