Managing talent: Let your stars guide you to the summit

‘Clever’ is the new ‘talent’ – and if managers really want to make the most of their gifted employees they must standback and allow them to get on with it. Roger Trapp reports

No matter what it says in annual reports or other public statements, every business has some people who are more important to the organisation than others. In recent years, this group has come to be known as "the talent", as in the "war for talent" that organisations say they must wage in order to stay ahead of the opposition in an increasingly competitive "knowledge economy". Though well-meaning, this notion has become somewhat devalued as the term came to be used to cover any skill or set of skills that were required. Any sort of recruitment came to be regarded as talent spotting.

Business school academics and authors Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones could see the limitations of the approach. Which is why their new book is entitled simply Clever (Harvard Business Press, £19.99). The word "talent" had become "boring and tired", while another buzz phrase of recent times, "knowledge management" – for the process by which organisations seek to systemise the stuff their employees know – is just "boring", they say.

"Clever" is not without its own problems. Not least in the United States, where – as they point out in the introduction to their book – "clever carries connotations of being overly smart and difficult". But they prefer the English meaning – being skilled and talented – while accepting that "being smart usually comes with a few rough edges".

Another issue concerns what sort of people are deemed to be clever. Goffee and Jones admit that when they started they assumed they would be dealing with lawyers, investment bankers, "R&D wizards" and others generally seen to be the stars of their organisations. But they quickly came to realise that clever people are to be found in all sorts of organisations and in all sorts of places within them. As they point out, clever people can be school teachers, university administrators, museum curators or managers in small or large businesses. What unites them is their ability to create "huge amounts of value for their organisations".

Another thing that links many clever people is that they see themselves in terms of their work rather than their organisation – so that, for example, when asked what they do, they will initially say they are a lawyer or a surgeon rather than say who they work for. That said, though, most realise that they need the organisation as much as it needs them – for the resources and infrastructure, and also the credibility and sociability it provides.

As well as recognising this symbiotic relationship, managers seeking to gain the most from their "clevers" need to realise that they will have to exhibit a different style of leadership – and this may be particularly challenging for stereotypical entrepreneur leaders.

In a table setting out the dos and don'ts of leading clever people, Goffee and Jones put at the top of the don'ts: "Don't tell them what to do." This is significant – along with other no-nos, such as interfering, imposing hierarchy and bureaucracy and giving frequent feedback. The skill of the leader in these circumstances is largely about putting teams together – while recognising that a team full of clever people is not necessarily a recipe for success let alone harmony – and letting them get on with it. The challenge of the task is what motivates such people rather than the threat of what will happen to them if they get it wrong or fail to deliver.

The authors conclude: "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.

"Once leadership was all about planting your flag on the summit and standing heroically for a photograph. Now, the leader is the one pacing anxiously at base camp waiting to hear good news."

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

The benefits of being in Recruitment at SThree...

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: SThree, International Recruitme...

Test Analyst - UAT - Credit Risk

£280 - £300 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Test Analyst, Edinburgh, Credit Ris...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little