What does Marshalls have to do with Leadership?

June 20th, 2012

In some strange way, I think Marshalls has everything to do with today’s leadership.

I was recently dragged to this discount retailer to look for clothing. After all, why pay full price when you can get the same designer item at Marshalls? As I walked in, I could not help but wonder how different the store looked compared to three years ago! (It may have been the last time I shopped in a non-Apple store, frankly.) I immediately noticed a difference in the store’s inventory – it was really light.  There used to be aisles jammed with clothing, food, kitchen ware, home items…you name it, it was there. Piles of merchandise were often scattered throughout the store, overflowing from its respective shelves. Today? Not so much.

This got me thinking about the world and how it has changed leadership practices for now and perhaps for a good long time. Today’s leader does nothing in excess. Hiring, manufacturing, R&D, innovation, capitol investments….it is all “just-in-time” and/or “just enough”.

The empty shelves now symbolize our new way of leading. I think it is getting harder and harder for discount retailers to find supplier’s excess. Excess is over-production. The excess is the inventory they buy cheap and sell for a little less than cheap.

As I dig deeper into this new world leadership order, I see the same lack of inventory on the shelves as I see in organizations that are building and developing talent. Leaders prefer to lease or rent talent. They prefer another organization to develop it and then poach it. Don’t get me wrong, this is my business. We serve a very necessary strategic purpose. BUT, it is getting more difficult to find leadership talent with “high potential” as it is called.

Our lack of inventory is partially due to the demise of middle management. This has been going on for years. Perhaps the more influential reason is that organizations have not been investing (certainly a gross generalization) as much or as frequently in the proper development of leaders. Who has the time?  Who has the budget? Leaders are now responsible for doing and producing so much and there is very little time to develop “other leadership skills” like strategic planning, budgeting, and forecasting…while doing something other then responding to email.

Typically, I give folks a hard time when they bring me problems without possible solutions.  Today, I am guilty of the same thing. We have a need for leaders to be developed and no one wants to invest in it.  There is a real advantage to those organizations that do decide to replenish the empty shelves… What do you think?

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