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Leaders as Coaches: What about high potentials?
The following is an excerpt from the book, Winning the Talent Wars, written by Bruce Tulgan:

Performance in the new economy must be dazzling. Nothing less will do.

So how do you achieve that level of performance in a company which still has a traditional approach to managing people? Turn the managers into coaches.

John Madigan, like Filemon Lopez, is a supercoach in the business world. He is vice president for Information Technology Human Resources at the Hartford, one of the oldest, most traditional insurance companies in the world, and also one of the largest at $13.5 billion a year with more than twenty-five thousand employees. I met him when he stood up in the middle of a speech I was delivering at the Hartford, walked center aisle, and hugged me. (it's a long story.) Very cool guy. People centered. Highly intelligent. Insightful. Energetic. Demanding. Not subtle. Everybody who works for him loves him. Exactly the kind of guy you want coaching hot talent in your organization.

Says Mr. Madigan, "I've had lots of high potentials working for me and they can be a real pain in the neck. They are smart, challeng¬ing, always have a better way to do something, often challenge the status quo openly. To old-fashioned types, this seems like a lack of control on the manager's part. Channeling talented people in the right direction can be extremely rewarding but can also be tiring, like hav¬ing a gifted child who keeps you, as a parent, hopping." To cope with that challenge, Mr. Madigan coaches people throughout his organiza¬tion every single day in one-on-one meetings and also by "seizing the moment whenever it presents itself."

Unfortunately, this is the exception in an old-fashioned company like the Hartford: "Most managers say they would love to have a bunch of high potentials working for them," says Mr. Madigan. "However, they don't have a clue about how to manage really good people…At the Hartford, the traditional approach centered on the position and its level in the organization which brought with it power over resources .... Also, people were socialized to expect consistency and stability at work and to work at the same job or employer a long time ....The old-fashioned style of management worked OK even a decade ago when organizations were still more hierarchical and bureaucratic, less networked and reliant on relationships and influence than they are today.

"Those days are gone," says Mr. Madigan. “The problem now is whole organizations can change overnight. Some people find themselves working for three different companies in the course of eighteen months, never having left the office they occupied before (due to mergers, acquisitions, buyouts). We definitely have to change the culture around managing people."

Mr. Madigan and his team surveyed the IT organization at the Hartford and asked people to describe the best leader for whom they worked. "Many either specifically referred to that leader as a good coach or described good coaching behavior." At a subsequent leadership conference, the managers in the organization “asked for a way to get better at coaching.” Under Mr. Madigan’s leadership, the IT organization at the Hartford has made a commitment to coaching, and now trainers are busy teaching coaching skills to hundreds of managers throughout the ranks.

"We believe that developing a coaching style in our leaders will help us maximize peoples’ contribution to the organization and help us reduce turnover… The challenge [we] face is keeping the momentum. It’s too easy to lapse back into old behavior.” The other big challenge according to Mr. Madigan? Making coaching skills a key selection criteria for choosing new leaders at the Hartford.


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