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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

Cultivating executive talent in yourself and your team

Cultivate executive talent in yourself to be the best leader you can be; cultivate executive talent in others to support and augment your abilities to lead your company to success.

Cultivating executive talent in yourself and your team
[Adobe Stock / Atstock Productions]

I believe executive talent is the most important aspect to look for when hiring or promoting leaders. A company’s leadership affects an entire organization and can either motivate teammates and provide them with purpose and direction or cause them to leave. Having a leadership team full of people with executive talent can help bring your company to new heights, but only if you nurture that talent in both yourself and in others.

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IDENTIFYING EXECUTIVE TALENT

Not everyone may know executive talent when they see it, but there are some common traits that anyone can easily identify. I believe good executives have no ego. They understand the value of constant learning and always seek out new ways for continuous improvement. Someone with too big of an ego may be unable to realize what it takes to be a great mentor or be mentored. If they think they know everything, they leave no room for others to teach them. And if they view teaching as a waste of time, they’re unlikely to offer their guidance to others. A culture of teaching and mentoring within a company can create an environment that nourishes executive skills and leadership, which is the key to exploiting that talent on a team.

Executive talents include being experts in a field or industry, but also a willingness to share that expertise. They join a company willing and eager to give up some of their knowledge in exchange for what they gain in passing it on. Sharing their knowledge can ultimately allow the company to prosper and helps them and other team members to glean new insights, knowledge, and experience as they advance to a new level of success.

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Instead of being afraid of sharing their knowledge as a mentor to the next generation of up-and-coming executives, people with true executive talent strive to mentor and pass on their expertise to others because sharing it allows it to grow.

CULTIVATING EXECUTIVE TALENT ON A TEAM

As executives, I believe we have a responsibility to always be looking to improve people. As Steve Jobs put it, “Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.”

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At our company, when we hire someone for a specific job, we offer many opportunities for improvement so they can do it correctly before even considering disciplinary action. We want people to succeed in what we hired them to do, but if they seem unwilling to take the steps to get there, they may not be the right employee for a team. People worth investing time and effort into always want to improve.

The first step is being able to see talent: Just looking at a person, feeling their energy, and knowing right away, “I want to hire them.” Some people may not be able to see this eagerness to learn and sense that they’re going to prosper; but if you do, start attempting to cultivate it from day one. If we can recognize talent in others, we can unlock that person’s potential. Think ahead and set goals for everyone on your team, trusting that failure is part of the path to success. Once you figure out where each person excels the most, focus on training those traits to amplify your team to be the best they can be.

THE WHOLE COMPANY BENEFITS

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When leaders find people who demonstrate executive skills, it benefits the whole company to foster their growth. I have someone on our team who has learned three different jobs and is now asking to pursue a fourth, adding to his toolkit of skills so he can thrive in more positions. Now, if anyone gets sick, especially with COVID still lingering, this person can also jump in and cover for them. When we cultivate the best in our employees so they want to become better, we can create a team of talented people who are always ready and wanting to learn more.

To create a great culture where people want to work and stay, start by always looking within for promotions. If you have worked for a company that overlooked you and brought in someone from the outside, you know it can be crushing. When people see paths to grow within a company, however, they may work harder to stand out and be acknowledged for their accomplishments.

In my experience, employees want to be part of an environment of great leadership where they thrive and one that motivates them to grow their skills and find new ways to help the company succeed. So, nurture their desire to attain expertise. The more experts on a team, the more mentors and role models there are to cultivate the company’s next generation of executives.

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When nourishing executive talent on your team, think inclusivity. Don’t be afraid of building up people who are different. A company full of the exact same executive talent can stifle creativity and innovation, but even one different personality can offer new approaches to problems and objectives in unexplored ways. Not only would I make very closed-minded decisions in a room full of Martins, but more diversity could lead to better decision-making and better business outcomes. Cultivate executive talent in yourself to be the best leader you can be; cultivate executive talent in others to support and augment your abilities to lead your company to success.


Martin Rowinski is the CEO of Boardsi, a corporate board recruitment company.

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