“The Portable Leader”, a New Strategy of Talent Management - Advantages and Shortcomings
By HR CLUB on 15 January 2018
Lately, many companies have placed at the center of their talent management strategies the promise of the portable leader, which can be summarized as “working here today will make you a leader elsewhere tomorrow”. Using the promise of portable leadership can attract talented people in companies, motivate them, and build valuable networks of alumni outside the firm’s walls.
The popularity of this strategy has led to the rise of corporate universities and to the corporatization of universities, all promising to turn talent into leaders. It is more than a promise of learning. It is a promise of transformation — that a stint at the organization will change your substance and value, not just your leadership style, in ways that will outlast your tenure in it.
By means of a study carried out among young managers from an international business school, Gianpiero Petriglieri (the special guest of HR Awards Gala 2018) and his colleagues have come to the conclusion that portability has two paths. Thus, they identified two types of portable leaders:
- „Hunters” – had a clear view of whom they aspired to become but saw themselves as lacking the competence and connections that would get them there. They focused on cultivating flexibility – the ability to get along with different groups, to adapt to the demands of many organizations, to be more versatile and more able to chase opportunities.
- „Explorers” – were less sure about what they wanted to do and, at times, who they really were. They saw themselves as lacking the clarity and courage to set a path of their own. For them, portability meant identifying their “internal passion,” and choosing groups and organizations that would let them express it and cultivate it further.
The more or less surprising discovery of Gianpiero Petriglieri's research was that, although the combination of flexibility and resolve might seem ideal for a leader, none of the young managers participating in the study was interested in cultivating both. Hunters were less interested in introspection, while explorers did not appreciate action and practice in excess
Another trap of the portability strategy could be the fact that it puts pressure on talents to keep moving, risking to devaluate less flexible employees. Moreover, it can even create a bias against less mobile talents or against those who appear more tied to a function, organization or geographical place. Consequently, organizations that promise portability may inadvertently discourage the development of commitment to a single organization, which is just the kind of commitment that makes leaders trustworthy.