If you have any interest in today’s pop culture, chances are you’ve heard of a little Broadway musical called Hamilton. If you haven’t, here’s the quick rundown: musical genius Lin-Manuel Miranda tells the story of founding father Alexander Hamilton, from his humble beginnings to his valiant efforts in the Revolutionary War; his murky political career to, finally, the duel between his frenemy Aaron Burr and himself that led to his early death.
So what does this Tony-award winning play have to do with talent management?
I’m glad you asked.
There’s plenty of management lessons to be learned from the various characters and their actions in Hamilton, but perhaps none as significant as the team alignment George Washington oversees in Act One’s showstopper, Right Hand Man.
Let’s set the scene:
Prior to this tune, Hamilton lands in New York, completely unknown and ready to make his mark in the still-forming United States of America. When he arrives he makes some new friends and becomes acquainted with Aaron Burr. Burr carries the strong legacy of his family, but Hamilton feels drawn to him because they are both orphans. Immediately the two have differences and Burr is put off by Hamilton’s eagerness and outspokenness—Burr follows a more reserved, “follow where the wind is blowing” path.
Right Hand Man opens with George Washington being presented for the first time, deep in bad days during the war. He is, as the name of the song might clue you in, looking for a right hand man to step in and help out.
Burr steps into the scene to offer his advice to Washington. He does it with the pompousness of an employee who thinks they know more than the boss and is met with Washington’s disdain. As Burr continues to pitch his aid as a “right hand man”, Hamilton steps into the room, stating that Washington had sent for him. Washington dismisses Burr without another thought and proceeds to ask Hamilton to be his right hand man.
Cue, Burr’s growing resentment to Hamilton.
The set up of this scene probably an all-too-familiar stage for you: your company has hit a rough patch. You have employees who are qualified and able, but you are seeking top talent to come on board and help you get back to the kick-ass organization you know you can be. All these factors set the stage for employees to rise above and beyond—maybe it’s the longstanding employees or maybe it’s going to be the new people who are determined to make their worth known.
In our analogy, Burr would be the longtime employee. He’s had experience in the field and he’s there without Washington even asking, offering his aid. Unfortunately for him, his aid comes across as more “I know better than you” to the boss. That makes Hamilton the new guy. Burr is wary of the new guy from the get-go, seeing him as a threat, and then Hamilton literally steps in as Burr is attempting to rise in the ranks and takes his place.
You could make the argument that Burr’s demeanor turned Washington off to working with him. No manager can be blamed for not wanting to work with a smug employee. But the uninterested tone Washington immediately takes with Burr shows that he never had any intention of listening to what Burr had to say; he was just sitting there waiting for Hamilton to come at his call.
If only there had been some coaching tools for Washington to use back in the day.
Not only does he miss out on hearing any advice Burr might have wanted to give him, he creates a rift between Burr and Hamilton. As Hamilton is named to the position Burr was working his way towards (and had been working towards for much longer than Hamilton), who could blame Burr for resenting Hamilton? Heck, I even feel bad for Burr, the technical villain in the story.
As a manager, it’s your job to give all employees an equal playing field and let them prove themselves from there. When you’re looking for quick solutions, don’t dismiss your employees who have been there for a long time and provided valuable work. Your new hires are going to need onboarding, but don’t sacrifice coaching your tenured employees for the new guy. Not only are you missing out on cultivating good talent, you’re creating unnecessary competition and resentment between your team members.
Give both Burr and Hamilton their moment to shine.