The Laws of Attraction: How to spot a talent repellent

Posted May 12, 2011 in Communication, Latest News & Insights

I don’t know when I first heard the phrase “talent magnet” but it was probably sometime around the same time we started throwing around words like “employee engagement” and “high potential”.  Anyway, to win the “war for talent”, it was going to be crucial that leaders needed to become “talent magnets”… attracting great talent to their teams and their organizations.  I once worked with a colleague who my then-boss referred to as a “talent repellent”.  It made me laugh at the time, but the reality is that our organizations are filled with people who repel talent.  I thought I’d share my list of some of the key behaviours that seem to make some people so off-putting:

  1. Won’t stop talking about their MBA… we get it.  You’re smart.  You got an MBA twenty years ago.  But what have you done since then?  If you’re using phrases like “when I was in MBA school…” just stop.  No one really cares and you’ve already used that card, so move on.
  2. Always need to get the last word in… really smart people do this all the time.  They need to show everyone how smart they are.  Sometimes there’s great benefit to just shutting up and letting other people feel good about their ideas and not always having to “one-up” them with your brilliance.
  3. Being aware of “bad” behaviours and continuing to use them… self-awareness as a leader is usually a good thing, unless you use it as an excuse to continue behaving badly.  Saying “yes, I know it’s not what I’m saying but how I’m saying it” does not give you license to continue to verbally bully people.  Yes, changing behaviour is hard, but if it’s impacting those around you negatively, you’re the only person that can do something about it (and remember you’re the leader!).
  4. Perfectionism… this is such an annoying behaviour which – in my experience – is usually rooted in insecurity.  It often comes out as controlling, micromanaging behaviour and is sometimes passable with very inexperienced junior staff, but will have senior people running for the doors faster than you can say “I’d prefer the line on that excel sheet to be 3 point wider”.
  5. Forever being the critic… it’s one thing to debate ideas, but to be around someone who is continuously looking at the downside of the situation is emotionally draining.  It’s important to balance realism with optimism if you want people to be excited to work with you.

Talent repellent’s are pretty easy to spot in organizations.  They’re the ones who have a hard time retaining senior staff; usually have junior staff in perpetual states of tears and who – although say all the right things when the get feedback – make only very minor changes to their behaviours.

So why aren’t these people canned?  Well, in my experience, it goes back to their smarts.  Because they’re often very bright people who deliver results, the rest of the behaviour gets overlooked.  It takes a pretty bold (and courageous) leader to move someone like that out of the organization.  Sadly, it seems in many cases that the short-term pain of losing these individuals often outweighs the long-term gain that would come with putting someone into the team that could attract, retain and grow great talent.  What a shame.  Do you know a talent repellent in your organization?  Would love to hear your experiences.

Happy leading!


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