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Leadership and Talent: two sides of the same coin?

While the field of talent management is gaining momentum during a time of increased employer branding, the question is whether leadership and talent can be separated. Surely, you can run a very successful business with good talent such as engineers and other professionals achieving high level professional output on a daily basis. While this may be true to a certain extent, the reality is that good leadership and good talent management cannot be separated. In fact, the better your leadership talent, the more successful you will be in unlocking the value of all talent within the organisation.

Good leaders believe in talent. They know that they need to achieve better business success by leveraging all the talent within (and sometimes even outside) the organisation. Leaders thrive on talent. If you have talented individuals within your team, and they really work well together, your team will be successful. Good leaders are also obsessed with talent development. They know that a good team consisting of good talent can become a great team with great talent, provided that they keep on developing their talent to rise to even higher levels of performance.

It has become clear that the best companies have the best leadership talent. Good leadership has become a key organisational capability at companies outperforming the rest of the market. This is not only true in the private sector, but also in the public sector. Top public service organisations performing much better than the average or underperforming public service entity, managed to achieve greatness by investing in the appointment, engagement and development of superior leadership talent. It is then also not surprising that when organisations have good leadership talent, they continue to build strong professional teams consisting of high level talent. These talent pools are set-up for success.

Given the fact that good leaders are committed to leadership development, these leaders actively seek opportunities to multiply themselves by developing replacements over the short term and successors over the long term. In other words, should the leader be off-sick or unavailable for a key meeting with a customer, the leader is easily replaced by a talented member of his or her team. Eventually, this pipeline of successors ensures that future leadership talent is utilised and developed, so when the leader eventually moves on to greener pastures, the bench-strength is so strong that natural succession can take place with limited adverse impact on the organisation.

As a result of the importance of leadership in successful companies, these organisations have positioned leadership development as a top priority in sustaining business performance. Typically, leadership development then also forms a key focus area of the talent management strategy of these organisations. Many of these companies have either created their own internal corporate universities to build leadership talent, or they are sending their leaders to top business schools and other learning providers to ensure that their leaders are developed according to the needs of the business. However, high quality leaders are still the exception rather than the norm, and this is the reason why we are now in the process of developing a leadership standard for South Africa. The leadership standard will promote consistent high quality leadership across the private and public sector, including non-profit organisations.

Thus, leadership and talent are indeed two sides of the same coin. Without good talent management, leadership will not be leveraged, and without leadership, the scope and impact of talent management will be limited. It is indeed time to prioritise leadership as the top priority in any talent management strategy. The winners will be the talent within and outside organisations, and better leaders, resulting in better performing organisations and a more talent-driven competitive nation.

Marius Meyer is CEO of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP) and Vice-chairperson of the Talent Advisory Board of the University of South Africa.

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