Leadership as a State of Mind: An Approach to Attracting and Retaining the Best and the Brightest
by Barbara Benjamin
Attracting and retaining the best and the brightest has become a challenge for all organizations in a post-industrial economy. Before the mid-eighties, organizations were able to offer guarantees of employment and retirement benefits that would last for the lifetime of an employee. These guarantees offered an extrinsic incentive to outstanding personnel and, in turn, personnel were satisfied to continue to work for one organization throughout their professional career. Today, technological advances and globalization have redefined the structure and sustainability of every organization, and most are no longer in a position to offer guarantees of any kind. Without these guarantees in place, what can organizations now offer to attract and retain their best personnel? Surveys, such as the one conducted by the Council for Excellence in Government, conclude that today’s workforce wants “opportunities for training and professional development, with recognition for creativity and performance and a work environment that uses state-of-the art information and communications technology” (http://www2.excelgov.org/index.php?keyword=a432c0e21039a7).
Recognizing that organizations can no longer offer the guarantees of the past, today’s best and brightest are more concerned with their personal development than with perks and more committed to lifelong learning and growth than to retirement pensions and health benefits.
Consequently, in order to attract and retain today’s best and brightest, leaders will have to develop a new state of mind, one that serves the needs of their internal customers. They will have to rethink their hierarchical control and command leadership models and retrain their managers to focus on helping their direct reports to realize their highest professional potential. Leaders will have to become facilitators of their employees’ professional development, including their pride in achievement, ownership of performance and sense of purpose; leaders will have to begin to trust and empower their direct reports to take on new responsibilities; and leaders will have to provide the tools needed to fulfill those responsibilities.
The US Armed Forces were among the first organizations in post-Industrial Western society to recognize the need to redefine leadership in order to attract and retain outstanding personnel. Driven by the shift in strategic approaches to waging war, from the use of field-trained manpower to the use of sophisticated technologies, the US Armed Forces recognized that education was now a key to a well-prepared military force. The shift from linear warfare strategies to ad hoc strategies was an additional impetus to recognizing the need to change the hierarchical model of leadership. A third driver of change was the diminishing enlisting and retention of manpower over the past ten years. In response to these challenges, the US Armed Forces began retraining their leadership years before the major corporations recognized the need to make this shift.
Today, in order to remain competitive in a global economy, corporations are also recognizing that they must attract and retain outstanding personnel; and to do this, they too are moving from control and command hierarchical leadership to a leadership state of mind that seeks to serve the organization’s internal customers.