SBJ/20101115/Sutton Impact

How true leaders attract and manage the talent around them

Why is it that some organizations have talent at every managerial level and others are in a state of talent bankruptcy?

Looking back on my consulting practice over the past 10 years I have come to the conclusion that at least 90 percent of the situations I have been involved with stemmed from having the wrong people in leadership/managerial roles. Too often we don’t understand the qualities necessary to lead and manage, and hire an administrator instead.

A key difference? A manager/leader is engaged with their team, listening, developing, coaching and motivating, while an administrator is not present in the lives of their employees and prefers to remain in their office and interacting as little as possible.

I can usually tell when a sales manager is not effective — their office is located away from the sales floor and they spend too much time inside it.

Past readers of my column know that I am a huge fan of Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” and his bus analogy about people in the workplace. Collins states that you not only need to have the “right people on your bus, but they must also be in the right seats,” meaning doing the right jobs.

I have also formed my own axiom about hiring:

“Great managers hire great people.
Bad managers hire worse people, and
Good people can hire either way depending
Upon their self-esteem and perception.”

I tell my graduate students at UCF not to worry about the name of the organization when looking for internships and jobs, but to focus on the leadership of the organization. Who do you want to work for? And who can help you develop to your maximum potential? Find out who is speaking at professional conferences, who is written about in trade journals and whose opinions are sought out in the media.

Based upon my experiences, I would say the best leaders are those who are able to attract talent and manage that talent. And they all possess the following criteria, the superpowers of my dream team leadership:

Vision: See not only what needs to be done, but also what could be done. A visionary executive team has the ability to live in the world of possibilities and alternatives and not to be threatened by change. Amway Center in Orlando, which opened on 10/10/10, is a fantastic example, because the planning began five years earlier and the leadership team had to envision technologies that were in their infancy and unproven. (Editor’s note: The Orlando Magic is a client of Sutton’s.)

Challenging environment: A great leadership team has the ability to challenge not only themselves but also each other in a nonthreatening environment with the overall goal being what’s best for the organization as a whole, not necessarily what’s in it for me. To lead and manage people while encouraging those talented people to challenge themselves, each other and ultimately the leader is a rare gift, but results in an organization where everyone feels connected and involved.

MSG’s O’Neil used a wildlife video to inspire.

Motivation: While I love Knute Rockne, I am not referring just to a rousing speech, but more about kind words and gestures. Gestures are symbolic and go a long way in showing the employees how you feel about them and not just telling them. Nothing can be more motivating than a heartfelt gesture that has personal meaning to the recipient(s). Jack Mitchell, author of “Hug Your Employees,” uses the symbolic term hug for any gestures that show appreciation and uses those gestures to motivate his staff to perform at even higher levels.

Team spirit: I have to single out Scott O’Neil, president of Madison Square Garden Sports, on this one as he built it into the team marketing and business operations staff at the NBA and has recreated it again at MSG (Editor’s note: The New York Knicks are a client of Sutton’s.)

In his words, this is “rooting for each other.” A classic O’Neil moment was when he showed a famous YouTube video about water buffaloes — “Battle at Kruger” (, then encouraged his staff to become purple water buffaloes (to stand out as Seth Godin’s famous “Purple Cow”). He topped it off by having an after-work reception and giving each staff member a purple pair of Chuck Taylor sneakers. The message was that they all needed to become like the water buffaloes in the video, to rally and support each other in good times and in tough times.

Communication: Keep everyone informed and feeling part of the process. Another one of my axioms:

“Informed people are involved and
Involved people are Inspired.”

Where there is communication, there is trust, and where there is poor communication there is misinformation, a lack of trust and ultimately a lack of faith and commitment. All staff meetings or monthly lunches can go a long way in this regard. While I was at the NBA, the San Antonio Spurs had such meetings where information was disseminated, people were acknowledged and rewarded publicly and information about opportunities within the company was shared with the entire group.

Ability to capitalize on the moment: Great leadership teams are enduring. If a member of the team goes on to a new or better opportunity in a new organization, they are applauded and missed but not mourned. Other members of the team, whose talents have been groomed and who have been waiting for the opportunity, can step in and add new thoughts and insights that can make the organization even better. Even if they are the linchpins that Godin speaks of, remember that the cemeteries are full of irreplaceable people.

Diversity: Commitment to diversity means more than just age, race and gender. It also means cultural and ideological diversity — people thinking and acting differently because of their backgrounds and experiences, and having those opinions respected and considered. Ideological diversity is invaluable when considering the best ways to communicate to all members of society and to ensure that this communication is inclusive and welcoming.

Community investment: Giving back and investing in the community where you are doing business is good business. Tough economic times dictate a more strategic allocation of resources and how they are used. Nothing is more effective in securing and retaining both employees and customers than knowing that the company you are working for and supporting is contributing to the community or a good cause. Donating products or, even better, organizing a companywide community service initiative is a great visible demonstration that shows everyone how you feel, think and act.

Any organization with leaders that think in these terms will attract, develop and retain talent. Always remember that a constellation of stars shines much brighter and is more powerful than a single star, no matter how bright that single star may be.

Bill Sutton ( is a professor and associate director of the DeVos Sport Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida and principal of Bill Sutton & Associates. Follow him on Twitter @Sutton_Impact.

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