As we head into a new year, an article on the Harvard Business Review blog network caught my eye. It went beyond those pithy list type emails and Facebook status updates you get at this time of year, with some real insight backed by research. The focus is on five key actions leaders can take to make a real difference in their organisations, especially with regards to talent development.

We all know how vital talent development is: finding, attracting, nurturing, developing and retaining talent are absolutely key to success in the world of work right now. More than ever before. The author of this article in HBR, Sylvia Ann Hewlett, correctly argues though that the emphasis at the moment should be on DIVERSE TALENT. A good talent pool is not enough: a good, diverse talent pool is essential. This is especially true for multinational companies. You can read her full article with all the additional research included (it’s worth well it!) at the HBR blog site here, or a summary of her five leadership actions below:

1. Be more inclusive. What does it take to consistently drive growth and innovation? The answer, according to CTI’s latest research, is a diverse workforce managed by leaders who cherish difference, embrace disruption, and foster a speak-up culture. Leaders have long recognized that an inherently diverse workforce “matches the market” and confers a competitive edge by recognizing the unmet needs of consumers and clients like themselves. But ideas from outliers too often are ignored or squelched because their originators don’t resemble the paradigms of corporate power — Caucasian, male, heterosexual, and from a similar educational and socioeconomic background. Leaders who promote a culture of diverse talent — whether in their team or throughout their organization — where everyone feels free to volunteer opinions or propose solutions that contradict convention unlock the full spectrum of innovative capacity.

2. Create pathways for sponsorship. What can help talented women, gays, and people of color spread their wings and succeed? The answer is sponsorship — a strategic workplace partnership between those with power and those with potential. Unlike mentors, who act as sympathetic sounding boards, sponsors are people in positions of power who work on their protégé’s behalf to clear obstacles, foster connections, assign higher-profile work to ease the move up the ranks, and provide aircover and support in case of stumbles. Sponsors have a significant impact on the career traction of their female and multicultural protégés: 68% of women with sponsors say they are satisfied with their rate of advancement, compared with 57% of those without sponsors; 53% of sponsored African-Americans and 55% of Asians are satisfied with their career progress, compared with, respectively, 35% and 30%. Those numbers add up to employees who are more committed, more engaged, and more likely to attract similar talent.

Why take on the responsibility — and risk — of becoming a sponsor? By building a dedicated team of talent, sponsors see a measurable benefit to their own careers: White leaders — both men and women — with a posse of protégés are 11% more satisfied with their own rate of advancement than those who haven’t invested in up-and-comers. Sponsors of color who have developed young talent are overall 30% more satisfied with their career progress than those who haven’t built that base of support.

Magnet for talent3. Crack the code of executive presence. Performance, hard work, and sponsors get top talent recognized and promoted, but “leadership potential” isn’t enough to lever men and women into the executive suite. Leadership roles are given to those who also look and act the part, who manifest “executive presence”. According to CTI research, executive presence constitutes 26% of what senior leaders say it takes to get the next promotion. It rests on three pillars: gravitas, communication skills and appearance. Yet because senior leaders are overwhelmingly Caucasian and male, women and multicultural professionals find themselves at an immediate disadvantage in trying to look, sound, and act like a leader — and they’re not getting the guidance they need to acquire it.

4. Be a more active ally. Despite advances in workplace acceptance, 41% of American lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) workers remain closeted at the office. Given the increased productivity and lower turnover rates of “out” workers, companies have a bottom-line incentive to create a workplace where LGBT workers feel accepted, valued, and comfortable being who they are. What makes work a place where LGBT talent can thrive? Allies — people who support or work as LGBT advocates — play a decisive role in creating an open community where individuals are comfortable being themselves.

5. Be a more proactive protégé. The dynamics — and the rewards — of the sponsor–protégé relationship don’t end with a big promotion; they last throughout a career. Think about it: CEOs need people they can rely on as the go-to person for high-profile trouble-shooting, as the perfect candidate to lead those massive projects that can make or break a company’s future, as the reliable source for innovative solutions. At the same time, sponsorship can never be taken for granted. In today’s uncertain economy, executive teams can get reshuffled without notice, leaving you without protection.

Resolve to tend that reciprocal relationship with your existing sponsors — and extend your network of new sponsors— in the new year.

According to CTI research, the vast majority of white-collar employees in the United States work for companies that fail to realize their full innovative potential because their leadership lacks the inclusive behaviors needed to effectively “unlock” the innovative potential of an inherently diverse workforce. Leaders who resolve to inculcate behaviors and disseminate practices that endorse, encourage and empower women, people of color, and LGBTs are far more likely both to retain a broader spectrum of top talent as well as tap into an ever-replenishing well of innovation.

Author: Sylvia Ann Hewlett is Chairman and CEO of the Center for Talent Innovation and Hewlett Chivée Partners. She is the author of 10 books, including ‘Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor’. Follow her on Twitter at @sahewlett.

Source: HBR blog

What other leadership resolutions do you think would be worth adding to this list? Please add your comments below.

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