Talent Swag: Transparency in Identifying Leadership Potential

Guest: Michael Lamm Business Development, Coaching, Employee Coaching, HR, Leadership, Learning and Development, Recognition, Talent Management Power Rankings, Training and Development

Okay, let me start by saying I’m a pretty young guy and I feel as though I’m “hip to the jive.” I can also admit that some nights I sit with my fiancée and, without complaint, watch a full hour of E! News. But, what the heck is “swag?”

When you turn to the millennial man’s best friend, Google, you find a myriad of both vulgar and interesting definitions. The one result that I found most useful is:

“Swag is personality, originality, and the way you wear your jeans.” – NeYo

We can interpret this quote from the famed singer as attitude, confidence, and exuding a sort of boastfulness. Great! Now that we have an idea of what swag may be, minus the jeans comment (which I honestly still don’t understand) what does that have to do with talent?

When it comes to the identification of leadership talent in an organization, one of the more published arguments is that of timing: How early should organizations be identifying leadership potential? However, what has captured my interest within this identification process is the topic of transparency. Do we tell our early-career talents that we have identified them as future leaders? Do we give them titles like, “Critical Contributor,” “Key Talent,” or “Heir to the Throne?”

Introducing: Talent Swag. Yes, you’ve all just witnessed it; I have invented THE HR term for 2014. Talent Swag is the phenomenon in which high-potential employees that have been identified as future leaders carry themselves with a boastfulness that is seen by others as entitled, arrogant, or downright bratty. Here are my three big watch-outs when it comes to transparency and avoiding Talent Swag:

  1. Be Prepared – Once you let an employee know that they are on a “list,” be ready with responses to questions of a wide range, from “How does this change my current role?” to “What am I slated to be doing next?” Talent Swag can be driven by misguided career counseling.
  2. Communicate Realities – Be not only transparent in the employee’s identification as a future leader but also do your research. What is the probability solely based on numbers that this individual will be an executive? Share the ratios to set the correct expectations for your employees to avoid problems like attrition or Talent Swag.
  3. Personality Management – Manage the personalities of your high-potentials. Leadership extends beyond performance and relies on how one carries him or herself. Include aspects of this into your Hi-Po development initiatives. When Talent Swag is identified by peers or
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    leaders, credibility could be lost.

While these three items will help you avoid Talent Swag when beginning the process of identification, what if the Swag already exists? Should you deal with a swaggy future leader differently than the others? Here some advice when in this situation:

  1. Use of Talent Tools – What could be better for an individual displaying Talent Swag than a 360-degree assessment? Think of your current development arsenal and how you could use these tools to help advise your future leaders.
  2. Exposure – A great way to control a swaggy personality would be exposing it. Allow your boastful future leader to see the first-hand reactions of current leadership to this sort of personality through assessment or informal means to result in a positive outcome.
  3. Executive Coaching/Mentoring – The great thing about a mentor is that the relationship extends beyond work-related topics. Assign mentors to your future leaders that embody what you would expect out of the high-potentials moving up in the organization.

So, whether we call it entitlement or Talent Swag, the intricacies of transparency continue. Being somewhat early in my career, if I end up being “identified” by my organization, I don’t think it would alter my views of professionalism. I wouldn’t say that my swag hand is strong, but at the same time, I started this post by mentioning that I was “hip to the jive,” so I will let you judge for yourselves.