Purposeful Talent Development: The Machete or the Map?

compass and machete
Jennifer Stangl Photo
Director of Professional Development

3 minutes

Here are factors to consider when you have to decide between technical and leadership training.

Editor's note: This is the first "Purposeful Talent Development" post; watch for subsequent installments on the last Monday of the month. Or, subscribe to get a link to each CUES Skybox post delivered to your inbox. 

Imagine you are walking through a dense jungle trying to find your way back to camp. It’s dark and you have to hold your lamp in one hand. That leaves you only one free hand for either your map or your machete. Which do you choose? Either would be beneficial, right? The machete will help you to move through the tangles and vines more efficiently, while the map will provide you with a route. 

You’re likely encounter a similar decision each time you look at where to focus your talent development resources. What should get your attention and time? Should it be the machete of technical training that quickly cuts through inefficiency within the daily work or should it be the map of leadership training that helps to guide individuals and teams in the best direction?

In a perfect world, you wouldn’t have to choose; there would be enough resources, budget and capacity to support all aspects of development within your organization. However, our world isn’t always perfect and many times you have to balance the resources you have with the needs of the organization and staff.

Commonly, when faced with this decision, I’ve seen leaders go for the quick win by using low-cost, seemingly high-impact training that hits the largest number of people. Most often, I’ve seen these solutions fall within the technical training realm. Leaders may offer training for staff to understand mortgage, lending and deposit practices, maybe some member service, and even a little bit of change and communication training to add balance. But what are the long-term consequences of always choosing the machete?  

When all development energy and efforts are focused on technical training, the focus is limited to the here and now. By deferring resources to the here and now, we risk losing focus on the future. More importantly, we lose the opportunity to develop talent in those that can support organizational and staff needs in the here and now. In these situations, we fail to develop leaders, and when we fail to develop leaders, we fail as an organization. In our earlier analogy, we lose the ability to find our camp.

Leadership development is not just a people need; it’s a critical organizational need. There is a need to develop those who lead people, those who lead departments or functions, those who lead projects, and those that lead without direct authority. By focusing on leadership at each of these levels, we leverage the skills to support the organization today and provide a map to a future with bench strength and strategic focus. Overall, we put ourselves and the organization in a place to succeed. 

Jennifer Stangl is CUES’ director of professional development.

The three-segment CEO Institute taught at top U.S. business schools is CUES’ flagship program for “map” training—teaching high potential employees how to lead.

Leaders at all levels need “map” training. CUES School of IT Leadership, next slated for Sept. 12-14 in Denver, helps tech professionals better set strategy and guide people.

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