How would you lead your ‘smartest, most creative people’? Here is guidance from ‘Clever,’ a new book by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones (www.harvardbusiness.org).
The simple definition of ‘clever’ that the authors begin with is ‘possessing skill or talent,’ as per Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, rather than the popular connotation of ‘being overly smart and difficult.’
Most organisations have clever people, the intro assures. “They are individuals who make a disproportionate contribution to what the organisation does. They habitually punch above their weight.” Examples of such people in the book include ‘software programmers or pharmaceutical researchers who create a new piece of code or a new drug that can potentially bankroll the entire organisation for a decade, investment bankers or tax accountants who find a tax-efficient way to structure a merger deal, or market researchers who see patterns in consumer spending that no one else can detect’!
While the clever people may often be more valuable than their leaders or CEOs, the value gets realised only if the organisational and leadership context enables them to do so, the authors observe.
“Without clever people, leaders cannot hope to succeed. Without good leadership, clevers can never realise their full potential. They are in it together… And both need organisations.”
Unleashing the potential of clever people demands a new style of leadership, the authors declare. “Leaders can no longer be the sole driving force for progress. They are not the one who leads the charge up the mountain. Rather, they must identify the clever people with the potential to reach the summit, connect them with others, and help them get there.”
Today’s challenge for leaders is to create a system to attract the very best people, as per a quote of Ruben Vardanian (founding president of the Moscow School of Management Skolkovo) cited in the book. He elaborates that the main struggle in the nineteenth century was about the land, and in the twentieth century, about industrial assets and natural resources.
“In the twenty-first century, the main challenge is to attract the best people. Because people need to believe they want to work for you, that they realise they can achieve their potential and meet their personal aspirations within the company.”
And these people can be incredibly mobile, with ‘global’ coming as standard, in the clever economy. Careers for clever people are not a predictable and long climb through a single corporate hierarchy, the authors discover. “They are far more likely to comprise a series of experiences, projects, and assignments across and between many flat and flexible organisations – often dispersed around the world. For them, a career is more of a smorgasbord than a plat du jour curling at the edges.”
Retaining clever people is not so much dependent on compensation strategies and promotion prospects, as on how they are led. More importantly, ‘what determines whether an organisation is a hub of clever collaboration or a toxic talent pool’ is the quality of leadership and the sense of moral purpose that it engenders, advise Goffee and Jones.
Clever people can live with anything, disaster, difficulty, provided they know what is going on, informs one of the CEO-interviewees. “If they think backdoor deals are being done, you’re done for.” Transparency is key, because clever people have a low tolerance for bull, the authors explain. “Their typically uneasy relationship with organisations makes them supersensitive to perceived deceit, corporatespeak, double-dealing, or any other strategy that implies they can be easily duped.”