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Talent Liberation - manager as catalyst, a lesson from Ranieri?

The Talent Liberation - Manager as catalyst, a lesson from Ranieri?

Many of you know that I come from a family of Leicester City supporters (all still grinning!).  Back in November I wrote a short blog on Jamie Vardy and outlier talent. We now turn our attention to the manager’s role.  What has Ranieri done to liberate the individual and collective talent of the team? What lessons are there for business?  How can our managers pick up the challenge and do a Ranieri – becoming a career catalyst for their team?

Most of us can identify at least one career catalyst who’s really helped us.  For me it was a boss in my second job.  He took a chance on me, putting me in a role I wasn’t really ready for; he was uncompromising in his standards and his belief that I could do it.  He helped me see myself differently – as someone with a valuable voice at the senior table, and through this I learnt to use my voice and I grew my confidence and contribution. 

In our work we have met some amazing managers who, like my early boss, or like Ranieri, who are true catalysts for the careers of those around them.  They get huge satisfaction from helping others to grow - they don’t see it as an optional extra, they see it as core to their role as manager.  They spot talent where others don’t; they challenge self-doubt; they spark a reaction which accelerates development.  Unfortunately managers like this seem to be the exception rather than the rule - so how can we inspire and engage more managers to take on this role and to relish the opportunity to be a career catalyst inspiring the liberation of talent?

The first thing we can do is to help managers see the value of this role – both personally and for the business.  Asking managers to talk about the catalysts for their own career can create the ‘aha’ moment for them to realise the impact they can have on their team.  They can think about how their catalyst made a difference, what specifically they did and how - odds are that it wasn’t through the career section of the annual review!  At an organisation level we can start to recognise career catalysts – reinforcing that this is a valued business contribution.  How about a ‘hall of fame’ or a way for people to say ‘thankyou’?

The second thing we can do is help managers understand what these catalysts are doing – giving them support, training and role models to help them to develop these skills.  In our research we’ve identified some common behaviours of great career catalysts: 

Challenge expections.  Most career catalysts we have heard about are pretty tough.  They give very clear and timely feedback and set very high expectations – encouraging the person to move outside their comfort zone and try new things, allowing mistakes as long as they are learnt from, but always expecting that bit more.  They also make time to challenge people’s thinking, asking for their insights, their learning and impact. 

Relationships matter.  A career catalyst invests time in building a foundation of trust – they are committed to really understanding the other person, their aspirations, motivations, strengths and weaknesses.  They look to genuinely align the individual’s needs with those of the organisation, a partnership.  They are available for informal and formal conversations on a regular basis – creating ongoing dialogue.

Support and advocacy.  A career catalyst gives space for people to make sense of their career and to explore options – they don’t feel a need to provide the answers.  They help to build skills and will share their knowledge and network, helping people to understand how to get on round here and how the business needs for the future are evolving.  They will also be vocal advocates, helping others to be aware of the person’s talents.  Importantly they see the person as talent for the whole business, not just their team. 

For many it doesn’t come easily –they can be concerned about raising expectations they can’t fulfil or taking a personal risk.  To make it easier we suggest recognising three steps to career development: where am I now? – building awareness of strengths and weaknesses; where am I going? – looking at how to align individual and organisational goals; how do I get there? – planning the specific actions.  Great career catalysts recognise which conversation they are in – they don’t try to cover everything in one go – and they realise that career development is an ongoing process.  They don’t need to have the answers, their role is to create the spark, to be the catalyst – the rest is down to the individual and how much work they are willing to put in on the training ground and on the pitch.

Comments on this Post

Bryan Stiles on 8th May 2016

Maggie, first of all congratulations to Leicester; I was a doubter, but then again so was Mr. Lineker (and at least I didn't enter into wagers regarding what I'll be wearing at work). Once again, excellent reflections from Apter on transferring learning from one sphere of life to another. I'm struck with a couple of the points. Ranieri has inspired his players but without perhaps being the more typical 'extrovert / enthusiast' manager we've seen at the top in past seasons. He's helped others grow (in some cases in leaps and bounds) and he seems to have listened and modeled a more collaborative approach but stayed tough enough to offer the 'challenge' you've mentioned when needed. Add to that what seem to have been clear emotional connections with his team. A crucial point at the close as well; this development doesn't end, it's an ongoing process. No doubt Claudio is already considering for his lads the three 'simple steps' you've outlined. All business managers who want to be the catalysts to get a similarly stunning transformation for their teams should be doing the same.

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