Do you know how to develop a linchpin?

November 18, 2018

Over the last two weeks, we’ve looked at how important it is to attract, and then retain, ‘linchpins’ to supercharge your team. As a quick reminder, a linchpin (as coined by Seth Godin in his book of the same name) is someone who is proactive, dedicated and totally invested in the success of your business. Moreover, they have the ability to solve problems, map their own path and bring that little bit of magic to your team.

As someone who has built many teams, I have a knack for spotting raw talent. The undiscovered, the unconventional and the unique talents that so often go unnoticed. The fact that I can see the diamond potential in people has served me well in the past and continues to do so now. Those people in whom I have spotted raw talent, have unfailingly become linchpins in my teams over the years. But in these cases, I didn’t need to recruit them – I just needed to spot and develop what was already there.

Which leads us to the purpose of this third instalment – how you, as the leader of your business, can spot, develop and nurture your own pool of linchpins, rather than relying on recruitment as your only source of talent.

So what characterises someone as a potential linchpin?

People who:

• Create change; build momentum; challenge assumptions; inspire others;

• Embrace a lack of structure; identify problems and work to solve them; anticipate future problems and head them off at the pass;

• Achieve the seemingly impossible; make things happen; get results.

Easy, right? Find talent that you’ve already got, and away you go!

Not so fast.

Identifying the bright sparks of talent within your own business is often not that easy. Whilst some are easy to spot, others may not be immediately obvious, and you often can’t rely on their managers or others in the business to spot them for you.

Keep in mind the following obstacles or risks that may be in the way of you finding and developing your own talent. Beware:

The missed opportunity – Linchpins won’t wait forever for their talents to be nurtured and rewarded. If you’re too slow to act, they’ll leave to find an employer who will recognise their worth. The sad thing is, you probably won’t even realise what you have lost.

The bad advice – If you rely on others in your team to tell you where the talent is, you only get one view – and it might not necessarily be yours. All too often, managers may only know a limited range of people, and favour (consciously or not) those they feel most comfortable with, rather than those they feel challenged by. Relying on that feedback alone will leave you blind to others that are sitting on the sidelines just waiting to be noticed.

The status-quo – What,  if any, roles are you creating for talented people? Or are you trying to shoe-horn talent and creativity into a bland and boring role that has remained unchanged for years?

The wrong focus – Which roles do you value most highly? Is it the administrators in the back office or the people who are closest to your customers? This is not about making some people more important than others, but it is about being clear on your vision, your strategy and designing your roles to have the most impact where it counts.

The lack of vision – Don’t find a linchpin and then lament that you have no ‘role’ to suit them. Role design is generally given little to no thought, and the fact is that most (if not all) companies have too many roles that they don’t need, and not enough of the ones that they do. So if you’ve identified a talented individual who is right for your business – create a role that is right for them! So long as you keep your overall strategic framework and company vision in mind when you do so, you’ll be retaining talent and likely creating a role you didn’t know you needed (but in fact, do).

The set of rules – Do you default to giving staff more ‘rules’, instead of helping them to develop good judgement? To do so is to create people who are either afraid to think or can’t think for themselves. Teaching your team to blindly follow rules is not only dangerous to your business, it’s stamping out the initiative that you’re actually looking for.

The wrong reward – Ask yourself – do you reward initiative, or obedience? This follows on from the above point – the fastest way to quash raw talent is to stifle new ideas and original thinking in favour of cookie-cutter ‘processes’. That’s when you stop producing ‘talent’ and start producing ‘I just work here’.

So, we’ve covered what you shouldn’t do, and the risks to be mindful of.

But what should you do, if you genuinely want to spot and develop linchpins in your business?

• Reward, encourage and facilitate a desire to obtain and develop new skills;

• Reward, encourage and protect those that are doing something differently;

• Focus on the bright sparks instead of on the masses;

• Create a culture that ingrains the fact that success is about developing new skills and ‘deliberate practice’ – do this in an overt way and follow through with your actions and words;

• Be explicit in explaining what skills and characteristics you value and why.

Key takeaways

1. Take responsibility for finding talent within your business. Only you know what you are looking for, and what skill-sets you value – so don’t rely solely on the feedback of others.

2. Create forums and opportunities to see raw talent in action and create an environment where mentors can help develop skills in a structured way.

3. Invest in staff development – help team members finder their ‘zone of genius’ and then map out a plan to nurture and grow these skills. This investment will pay you back in spades.

4. Be clear on what you are looking for in terms of skills. As we talked about in article one of this series, if you don’t know what skills you value, and what you need for your business, you won’t recognise potential when it hits you in the face. Give this the thought it deserves so that when talent appears, you are ready to spot it.

5. Champion innovation, and actively encourage your team to think outside the square. It’s no good saying you want a challenger or self-starter to shake things up, if what you actually want is a ‘yes’ person to simply follow along. So check your ego at the door, and encourage people to speak up with suggestions for improvement (and listen to them!).

Need help? I’ve got your back!

If you need help –

• Understanding how to spot raw talent;

• Creating a culture that rewards innovation, instead of obedience;

• Creating a ‘talent academy’ where silent achievers can flourish; and

• Avoiding missed opportunities to develop a linchpin –

click on the link below to book in a free 15 minute Discovery Call with me!

PS, if you have a burning question or a problem that needs a solution, contact us with the details and we will be in touch. Every fortnight we will answer a question for a reader as part of our case study series.  Leave a message on Facebook or contact

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