Leadership Start a new discussion thread based on a quotation from Part 3 of Discover Your True North that you find particularly powerful or significant. D

 Start a new discussion thread based on a quotation from Part 3 of Discover Your True North that you find particularly powerful or significant. Discuss why this quotation is powerful or significant for you and how this can help you (or others) as a leader. 

  

Each post must be approx. 300 words and –

(a) cite the preceding post (where applicable), 

(b) cite at least two readings from the course or program, and 

(c) conclude with an open-ended question raised by your own reflection. 

Winning the Talent Hunt

This excerpt taken from – “Learning to Lead: The Journey to Leading Yourself, Leading Others,
and Leading an Organization” (pp. 197-198) by Ron Williams.

How to Build Your Team
One way to define leadership is the art of achieving things through other people.
To make that possible, you have to learn how to recruit, train, and motivate the
most talented working team possible. Here are some ideas about how to make it
happen.

One of the most crucial challenges you’ll face as a leader is the development of
an empowered, highly motivated team—a team that is capable of achieving
extraordinary things even in the most challenging circumstances. To create such
a team, the leader must always remember that the people he works with are
even more important than the job or the organization and its problems, and
behave accordingly. Several basic skills are involved in building your team of
miracle workers. These include learning how to set expectations rather than
simply issuing demands, being able to accurately read and describe reality rather
than being imprisoned by false assumptions, and putting people first rather than
killing their zeal through indifference, as many would-be leaders do. These
fundamental leadership techniques add up to what I call people-centered
leadership. Applying them can help to transform a seemingly modest collection of
talent into a team of world beaters. Of course, a fundamental element in building
your team is recruiting and hiring the right people in the first place. Doing that
isn’t quite as simple as many leaders appear to assume.

THE VALUE OF INCLUSION: IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT DEMOGRAPHICS
A leader should recruit a team that complements the leader’s own strengths—
and compensates for any weaknesses—rather than simply mirroring the leader’s
personality. Especially in times of stress and turmoil, the smart leader recognizes
the power of attracting team members whose unique perspectives may offer
fresh problem-solving approaches that the organization desperately needs. For
this reason, some of the most common ways of thinking about the recruiting and
hiring process are dangerous, even potentially fatal, to the effort to build a
powerful team. For example, many hiring managers and human resources

professionals talk about “cultural fit” as an important element in selecting new
employees. In one sense, this is correct: You want to have a clear sense of the
values that your organization seeks to embody, and you want to attract people
who generally share those values and will be proud to help you uphold them.

Thus, at Aetna, we tried to hire people who truly cared about the health-care
needs of ordinary individuals and would always aspire to making sure that our
customers and clients would be treated with respect and consideration. But all
too often, leaders use the word “fit” to describe people who are culturally and
personally similar to an organization’s current employees—the kinds of people
they are accustomed to working with and whom they might enjoy hanging out
with in the company cafeteria or on off-site retreats. This in turn tends to morph
into a search for people who come from the same background as the leaders—
who grew up in the same kind of neighborhood, went to the same kind of college,
studied the same kinds of subjects, and have the same kinds of personal tastes
and interests. When they find a job candidate who gives them this kind of warm-
and-fuzzy feeling, they say, “He really looks as though he’ll fit in here!” or “I can
definitely see her becoming a part of our team!” Conversely, people involved in
the hiring process often use vague observations like “I’m not sure he fits in to this
department” or “I don’t think she’s ready for the assignment” as a way of vetoing
a particular candidate. I don’t believe in blocking an opportunity for an otherwise
well-qualified candidate based on such data-free comments. I think a leader
should challenge remarks of this sort by asking probing questions: What exactly
do you mean? In what specific way is he unready? What particular skills do you
think are missing? Can you give me an example of what you are saying? These
sorts of questions gently force people to “get real” about the hiring process rather
than falling back on empty assertions about “fit” that often amount to nothing
more than “I kinda like her! Let’s hire her.”

More important, the search for “fit” can hurt your quest to build the most powerful,
effective team. In practice, it often means avoiding people with new perspectives,
ideas, approaches, and personal styles—which can be a big mistake. Hiring
people who are in the same mold as everyone else in the organization strongly
reduces the odds of getting the kind of innovative, out-of-the-box thinking that
makes reframing possible. In an age when change and adaptation are among the
chief imperatives for every organization, choosing people in a way that reinforces

the path of least resistance is a recipe for long-term decline. Instead, I suggest
you make a deliberate effort to choose people who are different from those you
already employ. This is about much more than just demographic diversity. Yes,
it’s valuable to build a workforce that includes people of differing ethnic, racial,
religious, and class backgrounds, as well as people of different genders and of
varying sexual orientations.

The best way to understand the needs and values of customers from every
background is to have employees from every background who speak their
language and understand their experiences. But the deepest value of diversity is
derived from cultural and intellectual inclusion, not just demographic variation.
When employees with a wide range of different sensibilities offer fresh
perspectives on the organization and its mission, it helps you tap new sources of
knowledge and creativity that will enable your organization to thrive and grow.

When you approach the recruiting challenge with this in mind, you avoid the trap
of hiring too many people in your own image. Instead, you open your doors to the
broadest possible candidate pool, and you develop the ability to recognize and
appreciate talent no matter where you find it or what it may look like on the
surface. In many cases, the most effective leadership teams involve “odd couple”
combinations of individuals who seem, at first glance, wildly different, even
incompatible—but who have complementary skills that, taken together, provide
exactly what the organization needs to succeed. At Aetna, Jack Rowe and I
formed such a team. When the headhunter for Aetna originally called Rowe to
ask if he would be interested in joining the company, he was incredulous. “Are
you kidding? I’m suing Aetna!” he replied. That was more or less true. One
symptom of the problems Aetna was having with its physician stakeholders was
several lawsuits against the company, one of which had been brought by Mount
Sinai, where Rowe was president. Recognizing the seriousness of this issue,
Aetna was determined to fix it, which was why they were recruiting their “enemy,”
not only to join but to lead the Aetna team. Rowe knew the world of medicine
inside and out. But he knew little about insurance and had never studied
management, although his role with Mount Sinai called for considerable
leadership and organizational skills. When he agreed to take on the
chairmanship of Aetna, Rowe knew he needed to complement his own talents
with a second-in-command whose aptitudes and knowledge were drastically

different from his own. Rowe recalls: I needed someone who understood
everything about the nuts and bolts of health insurance—someone capable of
taking the engine apart, spreading out all 250 parts on the floor of the garage,
and putting it back together better than before. And then, when the key was
inserted and turned, we needed to be sure the engine would start! So we started
searching for that kind of guy—a person who understood the atomic structure of
insurance right down to individual products and the markets they served. I could
help formulate a top-down vision for our industry. But I couldn’t make it real
without the help of a bottom-up guy. Rowe and I became a highly effective team.
I could take the broad ideas we developed, translate them into practical, concrete
steps, and then show people how to implement them. I had the patience and
fortitude needed to stick with the task until all the thousands of tiny
administrative, organizational, and systemic pieces were fitting together and
operating smoothly. Our complementary strengths and our mutual respect
enabled us to effectively guide the company’s turnaround.

Working with Rowe reinforced my appreciation for pursuing inclusion in hiring—
not by checking off demographic traits on a list, but by recruiting people who
differ from you rather than people you are “comfortable with.” When you cast a
wider talent net, you’re likely to hire people with a less traditional image—in
terms of gender, race, ethnicity, age, and other characteristics—but more
important, they will bring varied backgrounds, perspectives, insights, and gifts to
the challenges you face. The result: fresher ideas, greater creativity, and a higher
rate of successful innovation. With this kind of inclusion in mind, as president and
CEO of Aetna, I consciously recruited and promoted team members who were
nontraditional. Even before I joined Aetna, the company had many successful
female managers, and I maintained and expanded this emphasis. I also looked
for smart, talented people with unusual business backgrounds and then tried
slotting them into assignments that would give them a chance to grow in new
ways. For example, I took Kim Keck out of Aetna’s finance department and gave
her the job as my chief of staff. She had to take a crash course in the entire
structure of our corporation, which she knew little about before. But working with
me, she quickly got up to speed and used her people skills, her communication
talents, and her leadership instincts to become an amazingly effective right-hand
person for me. As I’ve mentioned, Keck has since gone on to become a CEO in
her own right.

DEMOGRAPHIC INCLUSION: IT STILL MATTERS
I’ve been emphasizing the importance of intellectual and cultural diversity when
building your organization’s team. But demographic inclusion based on concrete
traits like race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and disability is also important. Surveys
show that many Americans—especially white Americans—assume that racial
prejudice is a matter of ancient history, that programs of affirmative action have
long since equalized the opportunities available to people of all races, and that
therefore deliberate efforts to encourage encourage racial inclusion in US
businesses are, at best, unnecessary, and, at worst, divisive and harmful. These
assumptions ignore the reality that people of color are still quite rare in American
boardrooms and executive suites. They ignore, too, the fact that efforts to
integrate US society began only recently in historical terms. I mentioned earlier
that landmark laws and court rulings eliminating legal segregation occurred
during my own lifetime (and in fact have yet to be fully implemented in practice). I
am a member of the first generation of black Americans to enter historically white
institutions—colleges, universities, social organizations, and businesses—in
significant numbers. Like practically all other black Americans, I’m familiar with
the experience of being the only person of color in a conference room or lecture
hall filled with white people. I’m profoundly aware of how awkward and
disconcerting it can be to feel culturally isolated from those around you; to
encounter no natural role models or mentors when entering a new environment;
to be the subject of embarrassing questions, comments, looks, and assumptions;
and to be accepted, if at all, merely as a token representative of “my people” who
is supposed to speak for an entire race rather than simply myself.

At the time I started my business career, few black Americans held leadership
positions. Those who’d managed to climb a few rungs up the corporate ladder
were often confined to a handful of specialized departments—human resources,
community relations, “special markets” (a term often used as a euphemism for
“black customers”). These were mostly staff jobs rather than line jobs, which
meant they were viewed as cost centers rather than profit centers. Those who
held these positions had extremely limited growth opportunities and were highly
vulnerable to layoffs in times of financial stress, since they weren’t believed to be
generating profits for the corporation. The real power centers in most companies
were off-limits to blacks, so virtually no CEOs, chief financial officers, chief
marketing officers, divisional vice presidents, or factory managers were black.

The reality is that, had I been born just five or ten years earlier, none of the
opportunities that I’ve experienced would have been available. I’ve mentioned
the chance I had to go to a better public school outside of Chicago because of
my grades. During and after college, I was able to get jobs at the Federal
Reserve and in the Illinois governor’s office. These were all opportunities that
simply hadn’t existed for black Americans of previous generations. I have a
tremendous amount of appreciation for those people who dedicated their lives to
creating the social changes that opened those doors. Yet today, fifty years after
the heyday of the civil rights movement, the process of creating a society in
which all Americans have equal opportunities has barely begun.

Black executives lead only a handful of major US corporations—for example,
three in the Fortune 500. (For the record, they are Merck, headed by Kenneth
Frazier; TIAA, headed by Roger Ferguson Jr.; and Lowe’s, headed by Marvin
Ellison.) Until the retirement in May 2017 of my friend Ursula Burns, Xerox was
also on this list. Importantly, Burns was also the first black woman to serve as a
Fortune 500 CEO. The United States has done much to break down institutional
barriers between races in recent decades. But the work of creating true diversity,
and of taking full advantage of the rich variation in perspectives and life
experiences that Americans of all backgrounds offer, is far from complete. For
these reasons, as Aetna’s CEO, I put my weight behind the traditional kinds of
demographically oriented diversity programs, which helped to bring fresh talent
and new thinking to the company. I chaired Aetna’s corporate diversity council, an
unusual step for a CEO, and made sure it included many of the company’s most
important executives—the directors of purchasing and marketing and the chief IT
officer, for example. We urged Aetna’s vendors—outside companies that
provided us with services such as advertising, media, printing, accounting,
investment banking, consulting, and legal advice—to create inclusive client
services teams so people from many backgrounds could learn about our
business and provide us with their unique insights. Also, within Aetna, we created
affinity groups to address the needs of specific sectors of our workforce and to
represent their interests in the company’s councils. We had affinity groups for
black Americans, working parents, and veterans, among others. Encouraging
and supporting these groups, listening carefully to their concerns, and helping to
address their problems made it easier for Aetna to draw on the talents of a wide

array of people—all of whom had something important to contribute to our long-
term mission as a company.

I also pushed the envelope on racial awareness through an occasional personal
gesture. For example, I made a point of inviting several top Aetna executives to
the annual Golf & Tennis Challenge, a networking event hosted by Black
Enterprise magazine. I suspected these colleagues of mine—who happened to
be white—might find it interesting and eye-opening to spend a weekend as
members of a racial minority group (since the vast majority majority of attendees
at the Golf & Tennis Challenge are black). They did. A number commented about
the awkwardness they felt, the difficulty in launching conversations, and the
anxiety about saying and doing “the right thing” in an unfamiliar cultural setting.
Several years later thanked me, commenting on the greater sense of empathy
they now felt for people of color.

When you have the opportunity to help select new people to join your
organization, I urge you to consider inclusion of all kinds as part of the
recruitment and hiring process. We live in a world where people from every
background are important—as customers, suppliers, investors, and fellow
citizens. So organizations need input and contributions from people of all kinds—
and the most successful businesses are likely to be those that draw on the
widest possible pool of talent. If Silicon Valley wants to make significant progress
on this front, companies like Apple, Alphabet, Amazon, and Facebook need to
make inclusion a high priority. Rather than delegating the job, their CEOs should
devote some portion of their own time and energy to leading the charge. They
need to insist on considering diverse slates of candidates for every important
position before hiring the best person. When a CEO fails to personally
emphasize and invest time in this effort, it sends a signal that the issue isn’t really
important. Demographic diversity often pays immediate, short-term benefits. I’ve
seen it happen many times.

Here’s an example. When I was at Blue Cross of California, we were once in
competition with another health-care company for a major contract with a large
corporate client. After both potential suppliers had provided written proposals with
contract terms, costs, and other details, the day came for an extensive
presentation before a group of executives who would make the final decision. I

arrived at the client’s offices with my team from Blue Cross. It included our
network manager, who was a Hispanic man; our chief actuary, an Asian-
American woman; our general manager of geography, another woman; and me,
a black man. In the waiting area outside the boardroom where the big
presentation would take place, we met our counterparts from the rival supplier.
Every member of their team was a blond, blue-eyed male between six feet and
six feet three inches tall. We shook hands and wished one another well—and of
course we couldn’t help noticing the surface differences between the two teams.
Our team from Blue Cross made the second presentation that morning. When we
walked into the room, we saw that the members of the client’s team were as
diverse as we were—there were men and women of various ages, colors, and
ethnic backgrounds waiting to hear our presentation. The team was a cross-
section of the company’s working population—and, like our team, it was also a
cross-section of twenty-first-century America. We immediately felt confident that
we could “speak the language” of everyone in that room. Blue Cross won the
contract.

CREATING A HIGH-PERFORMANCE CULTURE: THE LEADER SETS THE
PACE
Building your team isn’t only about choosing the right people. It’s also about
creating an organizational culture that enables your team members to give the
best of themselves to the organization. And here again, I return to the theme of
self-leadership. Unless you learn to manage your own time, energy, and focus so
that you are giving one hundred percent to the organization—or even a bit more
than that—you will never be able to get one hundred percent from your team
members. I’m generally recognized as a hard worker. It’s a habit I developed long
ago, going back to when I worked alongside my dad in the car wash. I
maintained that self-discipline during my years in high school, college, and
graduate school, as well as throughout my working career. The habit was
facilitated by the fact that I liked my work. When you are fascinated by the
challenges and problems that crop up every day on the job, then you don’t mind
devoting countless hours to them, even on evenings and weekends—just as an
avid painter, surfer, rock climber, or dancer never gets tired of the long hours they
dedicate to mastering the activity they love. I didn’t necessarily expect the people
who worked for me to put in the same kinds of hours I did. But I did expect them
to devote the time and energy needed to attain the results that the organization

needed and expected. If they couldn’t or wouldn’t, then they needed to find
another job that suited them better, and I needed to replace them with someone
who could pull their weight as a member of our team.

Over the years, I had to learn the right ways to communicate my work
expectations to my team members. I think people sometimes felt intimidated
when they saw how many hours I put in. I guess it can be a bit daunting when
your boss is at his desk before you arrive in the morning, is still there when you
leave in the evening, and sends you work-related emails throughout the weekend
—maybe even in the wee hours of Sunday night. But my intention wasn’t to
impress people or to extract the same level of dedication from them. If a team
member could accomplish everything that was required at a high level of
excellence within the hours of nine and five, more power to them! I became
concerned only when people let the clock dictate the amount of work they put in
rather than obeying the genuine demands of the job. I’ve been told that my style
of relating to my team members was also a bit intimidating. I’ve never been one
for small talk. The typical watercooler chitchat is mostly uninteresting to me. So I
tended not to participate in the usual conversations about movies, family outings,
or the performance of the local sports teams. As a result, people would get the
idea that I was all work and no play—and that I expected the same from my
colleagues. Some even assumed that I was unconcerned about them as people
—that I viewed them simply as cogs in the corporate machine, and that all I
cared about was their productivity. That’s certainly not the message I was trying
to convey.

Reflecting on this issue, I came to realize that my level of focus on the tasks we
needed to accomplish was so high that I needed to raise my level of focus on the
people I worked with as well. When I didn’t do this, the disproportion felt jarring to
those around me. So over the years, I learned to adjust my communication style
to express more accurately my concerns about the people I worked with. I
developed the habit of checking in with people about their family lives and their
personal interests—to ask how an elderly mother was doing or how a teenaged
daughter’s latest track meet went. I even learned to show a little interest in how
the New York Giants football game turned out on Sunday! (Although if the sports
talk dominated the office for more than a few minutes on Monday morning, I was
known to remind my team members that there was work to be done.)

Setting appropriate expectations for your team members involves understanding
their individual capacities. The metaphor of the Navy SEAL that I explained in an
earlier chapter can be helpful here. SEALs and regular Navy sailors are two
different kinds of people with different roles. You bring in your SEALs for crucial,
time-sensitive tasks that require maximum sustained effort for a specific period of
time. Your sailors may be equally talented, but they are steadier and more
capable of working on the same task over a long period of time. To get the most
satisfactory results for the company as well as for the individuals involved, make
sure that both you and your team members recognize the difference and know
which group they fit into best.

Sometimes, setting the right tone is a matter of clearing up misunderstandings.
When I would ask to review my team members’ vacation schedules, they
occasionally thought I was trying to keep tabs on them, or even hinting that a
week in the Caribbean might be excessive. That wasn’t my purpose at all.
Actually, I just wanted to be sure I could anticipate issues that might arise during
their absence so I could avoid interrupting their vacations with emails or phone
calls. Once I realized the confusion I was causing, I found that explaining my real
intention made a big difference in people’s reactions. Still, there were times when
I drove people hard—especially during my early years at Aetna, when the
company was in crisis and we were devising and implementing emergency
measures. Evening and weekend meetings fueled by pizza and cartons of
Chinese take-out were common. For many on my top leadership team, family
lives were disrupted, vacations were short and infrequent, and thoughts about
work and the problems we faced were constant. I know that the stress this
caused on people’s personal lives was real and sometimes quite painful. I hope
and believe that I never exerted more pressure on my team members than was
absolutely necessary to meet the genuine needs of the organization. And I hope,
too, that the rewards we shared over time—both financially and in other, less
tangible forms—made the sacrifices worthwhile. The fact that so many of the
people I worked with during those tough times at Aetna have remained
colleagues and treasured friends of mine suggests that’s the case.

In my latter years as Aetna CEO, people sometimes told me that I seemed to be
“mellowing” as a leader—that I wasn’t quite as demanding and single-minded as
when I first joined the firm. Maybe there’s a bit of truth to that. But more important

is the fact that all the hard work we put in enabled Aetna to get out of crisis mode.
Once the company was on an even keel, there was less need for evening and
weekend sessions and emergency meetings to put out the latest fires. What’s
more, as the pressure lessened, the leaders around me were able to devote
more of their time to developing the people who worked for them. As my team
members built teams of their own that could keep the business running smoothly
in their absence, it became easier for people to take weekends off and vacations.

A well-run company doesn’t require routine superhuman feats of effort to remain
successful. An organization that accomplishes great things without outrageous
work schedules is one of the rewards you get for building a smart system and
staffing it with talented people in the first place.

THE REALITIES OF WORK-LIFE BALANCE
Having said all this, let me be clear: Even when the business is running smoothly,
being the leader of a large, complex organization is never less than extremely
demanding. If you aspire to leadership, don’t imagine it will ever be easy. It will
be engrossing, challenging, fascinating, and at times exhilarating—but easy?
Never. Earlier in this book, I described how my friend Ursula Burns learned so
much about the life of a top corporate leader when she served as the executive
assistant to Wayland Hicks at Xerox. She traveled with him, organized and
attended his meetings, and managed his contacts with hundreds of colleagues
inside and outside the company. In Burns’s words, Hicks was “all in, all the
time”—engaged at the highest possible level every moment of the day. For
example, she recalls seeing Hicks fly coach from the United States to Japan—
working most of the way—check in to a Tokyo hotel on arrival, take a quick
shower, and immediately head out to a round of business meetings. This was a
typical performance, not an extraordinary one. Burns remembers telling her
boyfriend (now her husband), “If this is what it takes to be a top executive, I never
want to do it!” But Burns changed her mind when she went to work as the
executive assistant to Paul Allaire, then chairman and CEO of Xerox. Allaire was
every bit as engaged, energetic, and dedicated as Hicks. But he had a wider
array of outside interests that fascinated and revitalized him, and he’d managed
to develop ways to integrate them into his schedule without sacrificing his
productivity and focus. Allaire was an avid biker and motorcyclist, and he made
the time to take cross-country trips; he was also a ballet aficionado and

occasionally arranged his schedule so he could leave the office early to attend a
special performance. Watching Allaire in action made Burns realize that it might
be …

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