Saturday, September 12, 2015

In the 'war for talent'...who's the enemy?

Yesterday U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker said, “To start, we must always tap into our greatest resource: our people. Winning the war for talent is imperative if our country is to out-compete and lead the rest of the world.”*

The phrase ‘war for talent’ is provocative.  If there is a talent in the workforce that matters most it is leadership.  Time and time again, what determines if you have the right people, is the leadership that makes the people you have into the right people.

When an executive steps into a new job, he or she generally must take the team that’s already in place and make that team successful.  When David Marquet took over as captain of the nuclear submarine Santa Fe, it was the worst performing sub in the US Navy.   Unusual for the navy, but because the boat had such a wretched performance record, Captain Marquet had been given license to change out as much of this poorly performing crew as he wanted.  

He changed nobody.  Marquet knew the difference between a ‘manager’ and a ‘leader’.  Many submarine commanders are more managers than leaders.  In part, that may be because what’s of paramount importance aboard a submarine is control. Marquet knew it was possible that the crew performed badly as a result of being managed badly.  Perhaps, all the Santa Fe needed was leadership and control.

A year later, the Santa Fe was the best performing submarine in the navy.  What was remarkable about this turnaround was where you found the leadership and control.  On the Santa Fe, leadership and control could be found in abundance in every job and at every rank.  And it was intelligent control, not dogmatic control.  This worst crew in the navy, even in the isolation of a submarine, innovated many changes that ultimately were adopted by the entire fleet. 

If there’s a ‘war for talent’, it’s the talent of leadership. 

* "U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker Lays Out a Path Forward for American Competitiveness in Remarks to Minnesota Business Partnership." U.S. Department of Commerce. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Sept. 2015. <>.
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