May 25, 2016
Talent Talk is a regular column on employment trends written by Glen Esnard, the executive vice president and principal of 20-20 Foresight Executive Search.
Recently a good friend, the president of his organization, allowed three top performers to leave his firm. He even supplied a not-so-subtle nudge as they left.
The reason for the nudge? “They were asking me to do things for them that violated the principles of our firm.”
Word on the street was, the firm made a big mistake losing the talent. Inside the organization? An enormous sigh of relief.
We often hear of leaders being either principled or pragmatic. Practical, effective leadership demands both. In an organizational context, consider “principled” as a focus on core beliefs that sustain value over time, while “pragmatic” as handling specific situations with little regard for guiding beliefs.
When aligned, principles provide guidance and context to be used in leading an organization. Pragmatics focus on a decision-making approach within the envelope of principles, situationally determining how far the principles can be stretched, while staying true to core beliefs.
However, far too many leaders pride themselves on — and declare themselves to be — either a principled leader or a pragmatic leader. They are one type of leader, to the exclusion of the other.
The relevant question is, which perspective is truly prioritized in the leader’s mind? Does she start from a basis of principles then apply pragmatics as necessary? Or does he view himself as a primarily a pragmatic leader?
In my friend’s scenario, a “pragmatic” leader would have twisted the organization’s principles to retain talent that clearly had little regard for the firm’s values. This might have worked, at least, until that same talent made fresh demands, resulting in further twisting. In that situation, the firm’s values and principles would eventually be meaningless.
A purely “principled” leader might have pulled the plug on those three earlier. In an absolute view, they had likely become unaligned with the firm’s principles already, which would have been demonstrated through small, but growing, aspects of their behaviors.
Organizations and leaders that operate from principles make it easier for executive recruiters to attract great talent. As we have written previously, these organizations are more attractive to the best talent.
Where is your leadership style grounded?