So you wanna be a…Talent Leader

Looking for a TA career change but not too sure how to get there? Our ‘So you wanna be a…‘ series of articles takes a look at some of the more niche TA roles and digs deep into the who, how, and why behind them. Our resident editor Jody Smith chats with some of your favourite TA leaders in that space to find out how they got started, what their role really looks like, and what tips and tricks they have for other TA superstars looking to get a foot in the door.

Rebecca Houghton, BoldHR

In this issue, Jody sat down with Rebecca Houghton, Leadership + Talent Expert and owner @ BoldHR to find out what really goes on in the life of a Talent Leader

For someone looking to step from TA Team Member to TA Leader, how is the role different to how people perceive it?  

Moving off the tools and into leadership requires an entirely new skillset, a conclusion that many leaders reach far too late in their leadership career!  Not recognising this early means you don’t truly let go of your old job and end up micro-managing or interfering in your team’s jobs and failing to do your own.  So back away from the tools.  Your job has moved from doing to directing, and from servicing to advising. 

There are four big differences to be aware of. Firstly, managing up doesn’t mean sucking up. People leadership means you spend a lot of time on your people BUT don’t neglect your boss and key stakeholders when allocating your time.  

Secondly, boundaries prevent burnout. You still need to say “yes” to your boss, but now it’s “yes, but….” – be prepared to negotiate resources and deliverables or you’ll burn out your team by saying yes on their behalf.  

Thirdly, stay neutral. You’re both a leader and a follower now, neither workforce nor executive so watch that you don’t become the champion of either one – the other team won’t thank you for it.  Instead act as a neutral translator and arbitrator between the two – your team and your executive.

And lastly, hold your new leadership power lightly.  Too many new leaders exert their new-found power a bit zealously, and it always bites them in the butt.  Leadership is a privilege, not an entitlement.

When you made the leap, what did you find to be your biggest challenges to be?

Well, I made all of the above mistakes of course!  And a few thousand more.  I actually quit leadership twice before I found my groove.  What a lot of people don’t know about me is that I’m an ambivert, so I find the people stuff fairly draining and had to learn to give less of myself in order to give more of myself (if that makes sense!).  Marshall Goldsmith – a famous executive coach – once said ‘what got you here won’t get you there’.  Another challenging moment was when I discovered that I really did have to let go of the things that had defined my value in the past, in order to redefine my value in the future.  The transition is really tough, because in between the past and future you feel like you have no value at all!  

There are a lot of successful Leaders out there with different personality and styles.  For you, what are some of the key hallmarks of a great Leader?  

Great leaders recognise that they lead in multiple directions – their team (down), their peers (across), their industry (out) and their executive (up).  New leaders tend to focus on the down and neglect the other three.  Great leaders also know how to control the pace of work.  You ever see a CEO looking overwhelmed or overworked?  Ever not see a new leader looking that way?  Focusing on your ability to get sh*t done and fast, yet make it sustainable is a real artform.  Lastly, they think things through.  Like, they really know how to think.  They even think about thinking.  Most leaders (new and experienced) have never been taught to think deeply, strategically or properly – so they second guess themselves, they fix the wrong problems and they are always flying by the seat of their pants!

Who was the best Leader you reported to and why?

My boss when I was in agency was amazing.   It was a year after I’d landed in Australia, and I was struggling!   I had lost my mojo, was convinced I was a terrible recruiter and needed to change careers.  She dusted me off, gave me a shot and let me bill a million dollars, largely by leaving me alone and showing 100% faith in me.  It’s remarkable how easy it can be to be a good leader – we often overthink it, and overlook the obvious stuff.

Before taking a TA Leadership Position, what kind of due diligence should the candidate do? What would you be confirming before committing to a role?

There are three key things I’d recommend considering before you take on a TA Leadership position. Firstly, look at the capacity. What’s your FTE-to-workload ratio and do you think that’s viable? If not, what is their commitment to fix it?

Next, take a look at their ambition. What’s the vision and the scope for change? Can you handle it?

And finally, assess the appetite. What is their capacity for change?  This is often different to ambition – ambition is what they want, appetite is what they are prepared to do to get there. If they want transformation but don’t want to rock the boat?  No dice.

Finish this sentence:  Don’t become a Talent Leader if….

you can’t handle relentless pace and pressure, don’t like compromises or influencing, or have thin skin!  But DO become a Talent if…. you want to have real impact.

Rebecca’s Cheat Sheet for Aspiring Talent Leaders

What are some of the actionable things you can do if you want to be a Talent Leader? Here’s some suggestions from Rebecca of who to follow, what to use, and where to seek out your info.

Industry experts and influencers to follow

For leadership, me of course :).  For homegrown TA expertise, I’d follow ATC events, Talent Table, Hung Lee and Gareth Flynn.  For a more holistic view of Talent, Gartner’s Aaron McEwan is one very smart guy.

Absolute must-use productivity and tech tools to make your life so much easier

Couldn’t live without a virtual Kanban. I’m an Asana girl.

Newsletter and event recommendations to keep the brain ticking over and your network fresh?

I’m a huge fan of Gartner – I think their research is relevant, logical and applicable.

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