At one point in my career I went from having the worst boss I ever had … to the best boss I ever had. It was the early ’00s and I had just landed at one of the “great places to work” in Silicon Valley.
Bad Boss was not all that interested in the value I brought to the team. At one point, during a one-on-one, when I was explaining how I thought we needed a little structure on the team, he raised his arm and told me to talk to the hand. He explained that “he was not a process guy” and wasn’t interested in my observations and suggestions. The company took a rigorous approach to performance management and it is probably no surprise that my performance was stack-ranked somewhere in the middle of the pack.
Enter Good Boss — the best boss I’ve ever had. Good Boss not only expected me to bring my A-game every day, he actively looked for new opportunities and projects to leverage my talents. He assigned me challenging projects. He expected me to shine, and he developed me in ways that I did not even know I was ready for. (I’ll never forget the day he introduced me to the influence map and began to teach me how power and influence really work in a large organization.) The results were astounding — even to me. The next round of stack-ranking in the performance management process found me near the top of the talent pool. Funny how that works.
I was the same person. I was striving to be successful under both bosses. I was smart and ambitious and eager to shine. The difference is that Good Boss was astute enough to understand and see my talents in the context of what the organization needed. He put me in my element.
Whenever I hear leaders talk about the challenges they have in attracting and retaining the right talent I can’t help but think how much of the problem is self-induced — their leadership, their organization, their culture. Performance is contextual. Talent is relative to the environment in which it is being asked to perform. The right team, the right culture, and the right context can result in dormant talent springing into life.
Are you creating the right environment for your talent to shine? Are you creating an environment where the energy that people bring with them to work every morning is amplified rather than dampened? Put your talent in their element. Culture and context matter a lot.