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Research June 2010

Raising the Bar for Leaders through Meaning YSC Insights

Original thought leadership from YSC

At YSC our mission is to release the power of people. We do this by combining industry leading psychological insight with a thorough understanding of our clients’ business needs. We work with clients across their entire talent lifecycles including: recruitment, induction, development, the identification of potential, internal selection, role change, measurement and departure. Our key client offerings include 1:1 and team assessment, executive coaching and organisational consulting.

YSC Insights: Raising the Bar for Leaders through Meaning

Adapted from keynote speech given by Ken Rowe, Deputy CEO of YSC at The Economist’s Talent Management Conference on May 25th 2010, London.

How do you raise a great leader? And what are some of the issues around raising the bar for leaders? Based on our insights and research, our advice is simple: go back to basics and do some of the very simple things very well.

31 % – 4 41 0% – 5 51 0% – 60 61 % – 7 71 0% – 8 81 0% – 9 91 0% – 10 0%








80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0

Average 64%

35% 30% 25% 20% 15% 10% 5% 0%


Percentage of responses

role. The average response was 64%; on average, approx one third of potential isn’t being unleashed.

How much of your potential is utilised in your current role?

So, what would help people take this to 100%? Responses to this question fell under the following themes:

va Fee lu lin es g of co m nn y ec or te ga d ni to A sa th se tio e ns n e of be Fe lo el ng in in g g w el A lr he ew al th ar y de w d or klif e ba l an or ce ga ni sa Pr U tio id si e ng n’ in sb m m ra y y un nd iq Fe ue el st in re g ng th a th s m tm ak y c es on Be a tr di ib lie ff u vi er tio ng en n in ce m th y ep or u ga rp ni os sa e o tio f n

Percentage of responses

In our executive coaching and development work we have sensed a rising tide of discontent with organisations and organisational life. People are crying out for a sense of meaning from their work. This plaintive cry for meaning is not just from the young high potentials coming up, but also people approaching the mid to senior stages.

The challenge for all organisations is to establish a leadership culture that creates meaning for people. In our book, Meaning Inc, we propose a number of key factors that contribute to organisational meaning. We recently asked a panel of over 100 middlesenior level managers which of these ‘Meaning Inc’ factors were most important to them in their work.

Give me more responsibility “Give individuals like myself personal areas of responsibility that they can identify as ‘theirs‘”

Stretch me “Greater challenge, more movement outside my comfort zone”

What would help take this to 100%?

Empower me “Less micro-management and more ability to be able to run with my own ideas without needing lots and lots of approvals.” “Greater freedom for decision making and accountability for results”

“Being driven harder!”

Understand my strengths and skills “More focus on the areas I am really strong on, and less time wasted doing things I dislike or am less good at.”

The message is clear: I want to be understood in a deep and significant way, I want to be stretched or to be given more responsibility.

‘Feeling that my contribution makes a difference’ was, overwhelmingly, the strongest factor. This aligns with our experience of working with successful leaders. The thing that really drives them is the sense of being able to have a distinct impact on the world.

In our experience, the most successful organisations are also those who are able to create this scope for people to contribute, who are able to stretch and challenge their people and in doing so capitalise from 100% of their

The same panel were asked to rate how much of their potential is utilised in their current 3

YSC Insights: Raising the Bar for Leaders through Meaning

employees’ potential. In these organisations we find cultures where people are given that extra push, where performance management is rigorous, the tough conversations are had and the translation of business goals to individual expectations is clear.

HR functions often come to us to help them gain traction and engagement from the line around Talent Management. What is interesting about our research is that line managers actually want to be more involved in the management of their talent. The experience acquired at YSC has revealed that if you give line managers the right skills and the right language, they can really engage in this effectively.

Empowering people in this way poses an tension for organisations that are looking to drive consistent results. The drive for consistency often results in a focus on targets and process, which can stifle autonomy. How can organisations take the risk of giving people space while also driving consistency? Organisations where we have seen this tension managed well, do so through a set of very clear values that have been instilled and embedded in their culture. These values act as guiding principles, a ‘way of doing things’ that give a clear and universal sense of what is expected without being overly prescriptive.

So, how can you create a leadership culture that creates meaning for your people? • Establish and embed organisational values that provide scope for people to make an impact • Equip line managers with the skills and confidence they need to manage their talent:

As part of our research, our panel was also asked what aspects of their leadership they will be focussing on in the short-medium term. Again, there was convergence around the responses, with many acknowledging their need to engage and develop their people.

• To truly understand what makes their people tick and where their strengths lie

• To be demanding and challenging of their people, set stretching goals, have tough conversations

“Developing potential of people” “Focus has shifted back to retention of top talent. Would be keen to do some proactive career planning for my team/function, which ensures that the best talent stays”

“Giving the RIGHT amount of guidance to individuals in the team: some need more than others, and I’ve not been so good at adapting my style in the past.”

I need to engage and develop my people

“Bringing the best out of people and making sure that we’re recognizing every individual even if we’re in crisis”

“Building a deeper organisation and engaged people who are committed to the longer term through good and bad times.”

“Developing and coaching, to ensure retention of our top performers”

This YSC Insight was based on the keynote presentation delivered by Ken Rowe, YSC’s Deputy Chief Executive, at The Economist’s Talent Management Conference in May 2010. Ken’s presentation is available to be viewed as a video on This piece also complements a longer piece on talent management that can be found in YQ2 (YSC’s in-house magazine This can be read online by clicking ). For further information please contact Alice Holmes, Research Consultant. Tel: +44 (0)20 7520 5555 / Email:


YSC Insights is a series of thought leadership

pieces that include points of view, case studies, client interviews, original research and commentary. The series is produced in-house by YSC’s Business Psychologists and Research Consultants. For further details please contact and for questions concerning syndication/reproduction of content please contact

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YSC Insights ­ Raising the Bar  

YSC Insights ­ Raising the Bar