Talent Management: Three Vital Skills Every Leader Must Hone

When it comes to hiring or promoting talent, organizations have shifted 180 degrees in the partnerships they are seeking.  In just a handful of years, we have gone from the scenes of the 90’s and early 2000’s, when the economy was booming and organizations were just happy to get warm bodies in the door – to a strong, immediate reaction of downsizing and cutting out development programs – to today, where we see an increased internal sophistication in our organizations.  This increased sophistication of talent in our organizations allows them to effectively identify and solve their own problems as well as recognize the importance of value through shared risk; this creates a shift in partnerships being sought to people who can do that, too – the “right people.”

Organizations now want to get the right person in the right seat, across the board.  So what determines “right person” or can you do anything to influence being the “right person?”  At the core, it’s a vital skill set. Whether you are looking to hire top talent (employees and outside service providers), grow a business with the right clients, or elevate yourself internally as a high performer with potential for promotion, the following three skills are critical to the achievement of these ambitions.

  1. Agility – moving quickly and easily in many situations; displaying nimbleness and the ability to think and draw conclusions quickly.  Agility is key in many settings, including:
  • Learning:  the willingness to be adaptable and confront what one does not know how to do.
  • Interactions:  learning from experience and demonstrating resilience under pressure.
  • Seeking results:  getting results under tough conditions building confidence in others.
  • Intellectual pursuits:  thinking through problems from a fresh point of view, being comfortable with complexity, and successfully explaining thinking to others.
  • Change:  curiosity and passion for ideas; enjoyment of skill-building activities.
  1. Resilience– the ability to recover quickly (from change, illness, or misfortune).
  2. EQ – Emotional Intelligence.  How one responds to and uses emotions to inform decisions and actions based on outside stimuli.

Each of these skills correlates significantly with someone who has high potential, has good-to-excellent performance and who stays out of trouble. 

Interestingly, studies have shown that these three vital skills are NOT related to IQ or personality variables.  What does this mean? It means that most people can learn and hone these skills – it is not a situation where you either have them or you don’t.  Yes, you achieved in school, you are successful in your chosen career path – you are intellectually smart. Perhaps you are even likeable! So ask yourself, “How do I rank on agility, resilience and EQ?”  You might not know. This knowledge demands self-awareness and the willingness to hear what others think about you and/or observe in you.   

Given that agility, resilience and EQ are learned behavior for most people, here are some options to consider if interested in honing these skills:

  1. Seek out a professional coach or talent agent.  You will receive honest feedback and most importantly, suggested actions you can take to increase your fluidity in these areas on a day-to-day basis.
  2. Ask your friends, peers, colleagues, clients what they see in you in each of the above areas.  Let them know you are increasing your awareness and want to further your skill in those areas – ask for specific examples or situations so you can have clarity in what they are observing.  You also might ask what they would suggest as behaviors they would have liked to have seen for different outcomes.
  3. Engage in a full circle (also known as a 360-degree) assessment.  A full circle assessment is a clear and tangible way to measure where you are now and areas where you could make improvement to enhance your opportunities for success.  This tool provides a baseline measure in which you can easily gage improvement over time. It also allows for confidential, anonymous feedback from various people in your life, which is likely to provide true and real information for you.  

Some of you will find the knowledge of these vital skills or differentiators interesting.  However, many of you will ignore the opportunity to advance through these recognized differentiators and will continue to operate as you always have – which, unquestionably, has worked well for you on many occasions in the past.  A small percentage of you, however, are adaptors who are primed to elevate and will follow these differentiators as stepping stones, accelerating you to the next level of success. In this new and changing world, this differing approach to the proven vital skills will define “right” for our new hires, our promotions, our selection of outside provides, our engagement with our clients …and for our own path to success.

Career Navigation: You are Successful and You've Just Been Let Go, Now What?

The job market for lawyers is hot right now, yet we are still in an era of job elimination and the reality is that change is a constant, and for career success you must be prepared for change at all times. If your job circumstances change, what are some immediate steps can you take?

1. Handle yourself professionally and express your appreciation for the opportunity your employer gave you.

Your termination may be unexpected or unfair, but the old maxim of “never burn a bridge” is one rule with no exception. After you have gathered yourself, express appreciation for the opportunity given to you. Showing business and professional maturity will serve you in your job search and your career.

2. Obtain letters of recommendation with your colleagues.

Letters of recommendation still go a long way in catching the attention of prospective employers. If, for whatever reason, you are unable to obtain a letter from your direct supervisor, consider asking others within your organizations. This could include other partners with whom you have worked, colleagues, adversaries, judges, business leads and if appropriate and within ethical bounds, clients.

3. Request Outplacement Assistance.

Outplacement is an employer-funded personalized service that addresses the need of an individual moving into a new position. Working with an outplacement provider is radically different than working with a recruiter. In short, you are the client, not the employer. Outplacement provides educational assistance and various types of support into new employment. It is commonplace amidst law firms in the Minnesota market to provide outplacement assistance; just make sure the outplacement provider has substantial experience working with attorneys and legal personnel versus the general public. A job search for a legal position requires additional tactics than the typical job search.

4. Network.

Sometimes human nature causes us to overlook tapping into our network as one begins a job search. We suddenly feel “funny” about talking with our network, or we panic because we think we have no network at all. Recognize that in today’s world everyone you know has been or has someone in his/her life who has been let go. It does not have to be a mark on your career; it is all in how you handle it. Our experience has also been that one’s existing employer (partners, associates, clients, outside counsel, co-counsel and staff) can be a surprisingly great starting point.

5. Don’t be discouraged by the job boards.  

For many individuals, reading and relying on the job boards can be a negative experience. “Ads” are only one way employers staff positions. The “hidden job market” is alive and well, and part of your learning process will be learning how to tap into that market.

6. Meet with a well-respected, experienced legal recruiter.

One such resource for the hidden job market is a recruiter. If you are unaware of a reputable recruiter, ask the management in your organization if they know of a well-regarded recruiter. Such a recruiter will have a consulting relationship with various organizations, which can help you move beyond being one of a pile of resumes on someone’s desk. In short, a recruiter can be your advocate, a direct voice to the employer. A knowledgeable recruiter can also shed light on matters like compensation systems, adaptability to laterals, support strengths and management philosophies.

7. Be judicious about sending out your resume.

Many of us are tempted to “paper the town” once we begin a job search. While this can be effective for a certain segment of the candidate marketplace, it can also backfire. This is particularly true if your objective involves a shift in career direction. Also, on many occasions you must be wanting just to network with your contact and may set yourself up for a rejection letter. Use your good judgment. The key is not allowing your letters and resumes to become more junk mail on someone’s desk or inbox.

Too often people just take a position that is the “same” as what they exited because they can’t stand being uncomfortable or being in the unknown.  There is a bright side in an “unchosen” career shift. It is an opportunity to reevaluate what is important to you, what you want to be doing and what skills you want to hone as you move forward.  Take advantage of the time and go through self-exploration. You are successful and that is not lost because of a career shift. Your success will carry you forward into your next opportunity – it is to your benefit if you are eyes open and know why you are choosing what you are choosing.  

The Talent Strategy

There is heightened awareness of talent being the most important asset of a business.  We are in a time where leadership knows that without strong, qualified, skilled people, the business can’t function.  Yet, a recent gallup survey revealed nationally, businesses lost $11 billion annually as a direct result of talent turnover.  This same study cited that executives estimate 65% of their top talent will turnover in the next five years and that only 29% of their entire workforce is engaged.  In addition to surveys like this, academics and consultants are emphasizing concern around the high attrition of retiring baby boomers and the impending labor shortage, the low unemployment rates and the stiff competition amongst companies to recruit the same limited numbers of top talent.  Is it any wonder that the number one business issue cited for the next five years is improving talent management?

While it is true that we will be experiencing a high number of retiring baby boomers, a smaller work force and attrition of talent remains extremely costly to a business, we are also entering a time of opportunity.  Opportunity will be seized by those businesses that intentionally do two things

1) Challenge the notion that every vacant seat by a baby boomer will need to be refilled, that every company is looking for the same top talent, and that attrition is bad for business and

2) Create and implement an effective and reliable Talent Strategy; a workable plan to attract, select, onboard, engage, develop and retain talent.

How does a business challenge the norm and take advantage of opportunity?

Step 1. Realign vision, mission, values to people and systems.

If leaders look with fresh eyes at their business today and to their future plan, they might see the the setup, the communication needed, the systems and the people might be different in the future to keep living the vision.  Instead of just doing things the way they have always been done or have evolved over time, intentionally create a start over on paper; does the vision and mission still make sense, is it clearly communicated, do we have too many positions, are the responsibilities and expectations clear.  All of these questions are opportunities to thoughtfully evolve your business to meet its future.

By starting now, a reformed organizational chart, workflow processes and communication systems can be retooled and shifted gradually as people retire or vacate positions.  For example, the use of technology, key performance indicators, and clear expectations might allow a business focused on work/life balance to focus on creating integrated lives for employees.  Maybe there is an opportunity to relook at walls and work hours when it comes to function, performance and employee success.  

Step 2.  The Fear of a Talent Shortage.

The right talent or the definition of top talent is different in every organization.  Every business should not be going after the same people. Just as every business has a vision, mission and value system so does each person.  One person who is a fit in one organization does not automatically mean they will be a success in another. To take advantage of opportunity, a business should think about their vision, mission and values; clearly identify the function and expectations around the role they are filling and then hire someone that connects with that organizational foundation – this is culture fitting.  

Step 3.  Some attrition, despite the cost, is healthy and good for a business.

The heathy evolution of every business depends on some people outgrowing the company or role.  Or the role demands outgrowing the person. It is the natural way. Just like a fire in a forest is healthy and needed to promote new lush growth.  The more attentive and better planning leaders are, the more the natural transition of talent with the pace of the business can occur. Evaluating the right person for the right seat at the right time is a continual part of any successful business planning process.

Step 4.  Talent Strategy.

Top Talent has a choice and they know it.  So, what makes one company better than another?  How can you be sure to attract top talent so you can even choose the one(s) you want to hire?  The answer to this question is talent strategy and management. It starts with how well a business knows itself.  

  1. Understand yourself
  2. Think creatively
  3. Compelling Story

Acknowledge, define a talent life cycle.  Know who is in your company and set a plan to develop everybody.  Not in the same way but a way appropriate to the function and the individual.  Identify early on high potential talent and start fully developing them as part of the business succession planning system.

The practice of focusing on strengthening the internal culture and development of talent will immediately begin to strengthen your external brand, client relationships, production and sales.

Leaders of entrepreneurial organizations have the ability to put your head down, plow forward and just get it done.  Historically, that has worked okay. If you haven’t noticed already, it won’t keep working the same way as talent underneath the leadership won’t have the same charging force.  Like a wild turkey stretching its neck up above the brush to see what is around and cast vision on the next steps for an efficient and safe path, so too are our leaders called forth to lift their heads, and proclaim the next steps and develop others to lead on the path to the future.

Clearly, businesses need to take action to attract the right people, retain their top employees and engage their workforce. No matter what the size of the organization, the costs are just too great not to address the market changes around talent.

Leadership Effectiveness: Silent Communication Speaks Louder Than Words

The most successful leaders are those who strategically align their policies, actions, behaviors, and body language with their verbal messages. Here are three reasons why the future of effective leadership is linked with non-verbal communication.


Leaders have always been under scrutiny, but with future developments in visual technology, a leader’s body language will be even more exposed to evaluation. For example, there is no doubt that videoconferencing and telepresence, which allows participants to see and be seen as life-size images, can help build stronger bonds and improve rapport. However, video communication can also heighten participants’ anxiety and self-consciousness because there is no hiding behind a text message or computer screen. Leaders will need to develop their nonverbal skills to make the most of these tools.


The body language of effective leaders will be increasingly “warm.” There are two sets of body language cues that followers look for in leaders. One set projects warmth and empathy whereas the other signals power and status. Both are necessary for leaders today and will be critical to the success of leaders in the future. However, if your organization is headed toward a collaborative structure and philosophy, then effective leadership becomes less about projecting power and more about building relationships. Relationship-building, in turn, is all about the body language of trust, inclusion and empathy. So the “soft side” of nonverbal communication, which has been undervalued and underutilized by leaders more concerned with projecting strength, status and authority, will become central to achieving business goals.


Body language reveals character. No leader, regardless of how skilled a non-verbal communicator, can fool the people who work with him or her over an extended period of time. Sooner or later, your body will give you away. Like good manners and good grammar, body language is a tool for expressing your “best” self in a certain situation and is a highly valuable tool. It just can’t hide your character.



Right before you enter the meeting room, deeply inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. If you are unobserved, make a soft “ahh” sound. Doing so releases the tension in your neck, shoulders and jaw that can make you look rigid or aggressive. Do this one to three times.


While seated at a conference table across from your counterpart, push back from the table and lean away from them. You’ll most likely see your counterpart react in kind by backing away from you. Now lean forward and put your hands on the table (with your palms showing), look them in the eyes and smile. Watch as the interaction warms up and is much more friendly and open. That’s how fast your body language can help you build or break rapport.


People are constantly monitoring their leader for emotional cues. If your body looks closed, depressed or angry, these postures and their corresponding emotions will be subconsciously picked up and mimicked by your team. It’s a process called “emotional contagion” – and it can also work in your favor. If you keep your posture relaxed, inclusive and open, your team will respond by being more cohesive, positive and productive.


In essence, gestures with palms exposed show that you are open and willing to negotiate on a particular point, while palms turned down indicate that you are closed to negotiation. But people also automatically pronate their hands when they feel strongly about something. In fact, a definitive gesture of authority when you speak is placing both hands palms down, on or right above the conference table.


Just like you bullet point out a pitch or presentation, do the same with gestures. Human beings are drawn to movement. If you move when you speak, you’ll catch people’s attention. It can be especially effective to move toward the audience before making a key point and away when you want to signal a break or a change of subject. You can also use space to reinforce your ideas. You have the most impact when you combine movement with physical pauses in which you stand absolutely still to highlight your most important points.

The good news is that whatever your nonverbal communication is right now, you can increase your awareness and change ineffective body language habits. You can develop a deeper understanding of the impact that certain nonverbal behaviors have on your audiences and you can add more effective gestures, postures and expressions to your leadership repertoire. The most charismatic, influential and powerful body language will always be that which is totally congruent with who you are, what you stand for and what you truly believe.