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Article Author: Leah York, CAE, President of Talbott Talent

Most people who know me have heard me mention Malcolm Gladwell at some point -- I’m obsessed. Right now, I’m particularly fixated on his podcast, Revisionist History, which he describes as “a podcast about things overlooked and misunderstood.” It’s fantastic. What Gladwell shares causes me to think more critically and ask better questions – it activates my curiosity about everything I experience. I listen and re-listen, but the episode I’ve played most frequently is “Hamlet Was Wrong: Hiring Nihilism in Action”. It hurts my brain, but in a good way. Here are three ideas from this episode that I’m still pondering:

  1. Gladwell explores two approaches to choosing leaders:

  2. Hiring agnosticism: We should choose people at random for leadership positions, because anyone can do the job.

  3. Hiring nihilism: Not anyone can do the job -- there are good and bad leaders -- but the systems used to select them often don't work. This reminded me of an earlier episode -- Season 5, Episode 3: The Powerball Revolution -- where Gladwell interviewed Adam Cronkright, a democracy activist who has "made it his life's work to convince grade-school kids to choose their student governments by picking names out of a hat."

Both approaches are extreme, and definitely not methods we use. But are there elements of each that can be woven into the selection of leaders?

2. The Peter Principle, coined by Laurence J. Peter: “In any hierarchy an employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence, and that’s where he stays.” Satire or truth?

3. “Teams managed by the friendly people do 30% better than the teams managed by superstars,” Gladwell reports. So why do we promote the superstars? And what’s the downside when we don’t?

I want to know your thoughts on these ideas, too. Leave a comment on this post and we can start a discussion.

Bonus! Book Recommendation: Gladwell reached a new level of awesomeness when he recorded his latest book, Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know, in the style of his podcast, complete with interviews and news clips. Check out the audio version!

Updated: Mar 10

Article Author: Leah York, CAE, President of Talbott Talent

All our talk about remote work reminds me of this book: Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It: The Results-Only Revolution, by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson. We’ve always had a remote work environment and there are a few concepts inspired by this book that I’ve internalized which have influenced how I lead the Talbott team. 1. Trust is everything.

I trust the people I hire and don’t worry about when and how much they work. I find it’s evident when someone isn’t getting their job done and it’s my responsibility to pay attention to the signs and address this right away. Through experience, I’ve learned that addressing it means seeking first to understand, because most of the time I just don’t have all the information. Sometimes the person needs additional resources. Sometimes they need more engagement or input from me. Sometimes they’re experiencing a health or family crisis and need compassion or help. And sometimes, actually very rarely, they’re just not doing their job. I truly believe most people want to work, and want to enjoy the work they do, so I treat people like grown-ups unless they show me otherwise. This means I have to allow for mistakes and take responsibility for them when they happen, and that’s really a very small price to pay to enjoy working in a culture of trust.

My favorite book on trust is The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything by Stephen M. R. Covey.

2. Work-life balance is impossible.

Everything I’ve succeeded at I have approached fanatically. Sometimes that meant spending more time working and other times it meant focusing more on family or friends or my own personal development. It depends on what I’m trying to accomplish. If I’m expecting extraordinary results – in any area of life - I have to put in extraordinary effort. I’ve found some people get defensive when I share my thoughts on this. I think it’s because they really do want to find that equal balance between work and personal time – and that’s OK! It’s just not for me.

A great book on this topic is Off Balance: Getting Beyond the Work-Life Balance Myth to Personal and Professional Satisfaction by Matthew Kelly.

3. Celebrate people.

One of my happiest people-management moments was when I called an employee who answered to say she was walking into the movies with her grandson. She asked if what I was calling about could be handled later that afternoon, which it could. This was at 1pm on a weekday! I celebrated that moment. Not only had she arranged her day so she could prioritize her family without neglecting her job responsibilities, but she also felt empowered to do that without asking for my permission. And, she answered my call and told me exactly what she was up to without any fear!

This may sound silly, but I get the same feeling of delight when an employee gives me her meeting preferences around her hair appointment. I know that if I asked her to, she would reschedule the salon because she knows I wouldn’t ask her to do that unless it was absolutely necessary. This is all about people living their best lives and doing the things that bring them joy. I love that! I want to be around joyful people! Because our employees are not afraid to tell me these things, they’re also not afraid to tell me when they make mistakes. They're not afraid to speak up and contradict me when they see things a different way than I do. And they’re not afraid to let me know when I’m the one screwing something up. That’s all priceless information when you’re running a business.

A favorite book that comes to mind when I think about celebrating the women I work with is The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates.

I tend to hire people who share all three of these values because it’s the work environment I want to cultivate. These are things that can’t be forced, like policies or procedures in a handbook. This is culture; it’s the fabric of how we do things at Talbott Talent. And who wins when our team is happy and productive and doing our best work and living our best lives? Our clients win, that’s who.

Leah York, President of Talbott Talent, is also a board member at the O'Connor House. The O'Connor House is a ministry dedicated to providing a Christian home that houses and helps single, pregnant, homeless women and their children. Over the past 15 years, they've served and sheltered over 440 women and children in their community.

The O'Connor House's Celebration of Life fundraising event will take place virtually on Friday, March 5, at 7pm. The theme is "LOVE FOOLISHLY", and it will feature an intimate concert by Nashville recording artist Damien Horne. This is a critical event for their ministry where supporters gather to Celebrate Life and back the O'Connor House's mission!

If you're interested in sponsoring or attending the event, visit the O'Connor House's website. Your donation will help provide daily essential needs for each resident and tools for self-sufficiency and future success. Each time you give to The O’Connor House you help them “LOVE FOOLISHLY” and provide a safe and loving home to young mothers and their children.