When they were youngsters, who would have predicted that Bill Gates would end up the world’s richest man or the Beatles would change the face of the music industry? No one according to Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers: The story of Success. Successful people, according to Gladwell, are a product of their experiences early in life as much as their talent or intelligence. Can this be true? If so what are the implications for managing talent in organizations?
Bill Gates would not have become a software guru, according to Gladwell, had his parent not sent him to a private school which had access to one of the very first computer terminals. Young Bill had virtually 24/7 access to the terminal, and by the time he was 16 years old he had spent over 10,000 hours of programming time.
The Beatles had significant exposure to the music scene very early in their careers. By the time they were in their very early twenties they had had spent countless hours (over 10,000) refining their sound by playing up to ten hours a day in bars and clubs in the UK and Germany.
Gladwell’s contention is that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery of a skill (roughly four to five years at 50 yours a week). This equates to the period of a traditional apprenticeship for a craft. In the old days (say pre 1960s) a youngster would become apprenticed to a master craftsman and follow the master around for four or five years before becoming a master in his or her own right.
Is developing leadership or management skills really that different? In most cases even new MBAs have learned the theory of management but have not served their apprenticeships of applying skills in the “real world”. That is why far sighted companies are designing internal development programs that will provide this kind of exposure to aspiring leaders within the organization. This is achieved though a curriculum containing experiences gained in, for example, rotational assignments, project teams, and mentoring relationships.
Here are few tips for growing the organization’s stars of tomorrow:
- If your organization is putting a leadership development program in place you will need to structure a carefully designed curriculum that will cover key competencies.
- Involve senior management in the design and delivery of the programs and as mentors. Their ongoing and visible support is vital to success.
- Adults learn by doing. Get participants involved with real projects and monitor their progress carefully through feedback and assessments.
Once the recession is over there will be a growing demand for talented leaders – growing your own leaders now will give you a head start when the economy picks up.
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