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The Leadership Wisdom of Sheri Thompson

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 10/03/2016 Bruce Tulgan

Mrs. Sheri Thompson

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Sheri Thompson assumed her current leadership role as Chief Operating Officer of Prudential's Agency Lending Group approximately two years ago upon her arrival. She is also the Interim Chief Underwriter. In this role, she helps to set and execute the vision of the Managing Director as well as overseeing the screening, underwriting, pricing and closing departments. She also oversees the budget, marketing, and review processes, and interfaces with finance and HR to provides executive level support to the Managing Director. To accomplish all of this, Mrs. Thompson has direct line of authority for 31 people through her seven direct-reports.
Mrs. Thompson is committed to "leading by example" although she acknowledges that this approach becomes harder as she continues to move further up the corporate ladder in a large complex organization like Prudential. Before coming to Prudential, Mrs. Thompson spent nearly 20 years in a fairly small company. In that smaller organization, decision-making was direct, even on relatively large projects and issues. In an organization like Prudential, there are many more stakeholders and influence is indirect. It requires much more clarity, repetition and skills not honed at her previous management levels.
Like so many of the very best leaders, Mrs. Thompson has what I refer to as a 'high authenticity quotient.' As such, she says she sometimes struggles with "the right mix of 'executive presence' and being myself." To an outside observer, it doesn't seem like much of a struggle. There is not much apparent daylight between Mrs. Thompson "being herself" and projecting that strong "executive presence": She is well-known to be highly organized, driven, and willing to take personal risks to make decisions. She drives people to work hard, but also makes great effort to reward people when they do.
Mrs. Thompson is fiercely committed to being "very honest" in order to "maintain a high degree of integrity in the management process": "Some of those who hear frank discussions of their shortfalls often pick up their game and eventually see rapid progress." She is equally committed to "targeting stars" and helping them grow in their careers: "It is great to see the understanding register when someone sees the rewards of hitting the milestones of their career goals after they've worked hard to get there."

The Leadership Wisdom of Sheri Thompson

Fight for the talent you need. Offer them the opportunity to learn and grow; show them the path within your organization to advancement; make sure they know they will get exposure at multiple levels of the organization. Pay them fairly, spend time with them and promote them.
Instill purpose and motivation in employees and the productivity and returns will be enhanced by the effort and there should be ample compensation to pay them well. As Simon Sinek says "Start with the Why" - employees want to feel rewarded and fulfilled from a purpose in addition to a financial incentive.
Communicate priorities up and down the chain of authority. It is imperative that direct managers have an open, continual dialogue with their subordinates to help employees grow in their existing roles.
Performance management is invaluable when done correctly --- in a timely manner, ongoing and done with candor. Most managers find the most difficult aspect of their job is looking into the eyes of an employee and telling them they are not meeting a standard. Also, most managers are so busy with the demands of the day that it is difficult to stay on top of the low performers.
"After Action Review". I am trying to instill a new process, an idea I got from my husband (Tulgan note: Mrs. Thompson's husband happens to be a Major General in the United States Army which uses a rigorous "after action review" process for continuous improvement.) We are attempting to refine this process into one that can be used as critical real time feedback after each project to help employees learn and grow.
Don't be afraid to advance high performers faster than others. Being open and honest with your team about their advancement is critical to their success. When others see that you are willing to put talent over time in grade, they often rise to the challenge as well, making your whole team more effective. Success should not only be the bottom line metrics but also in advancing employees along paths that make them better individuals at what they do, which ultimately adds to the financial success of the business. Often we spend 2/3 of the time dealing with the bottom 1/3 of our employees. Carving out time to help advance the 1/3 of the workforce that are high performers helps retain that talent.
Don't settle for mediocre talent. Process out those who are not up to your standards so that you make sure that you have a stable of quality up and coming talent to alleviate the loss of top talent that will inevitably occur.
Balance the art and science in management. The bottom line is inevitably what ultimately drives success in an organization; however, we must always remember any business endeavor is a balance of art and science, and the art is where businesses succeed or fail. This involves the human element, it involves things like motivation, purpose, and care for employees. If management success were purely science, you could teach it in a step-by-step process that anyone could do. Successful managers work hard at the "art" of it.
On competition for top tier talent... We need to look at this as the "adapt or die" portion of Darwinism. The bench is not very deep for top tier talent. We are all fighting for a shallow pool of talented people so we need to change to adjust for their needs. The younger generations have little affinity for staying in one place for a long period of time. If they see another company that has adapted faster, they tend to move - and quickly.
Flex time and working from home should be used as a retention incentive. Most good employees, once they pass a certain management level, end up being available 24/7 due to modern technology. Understanding that our jobs are not 9-5 and being flexible during work hours for those who display a strong work ethic is important to employee satisfaction.
On the emerging young workforce... I am absolutely excited and optimistic. Due to their exposure to the world, they are breaking the mold with technology and innovation. My biggest cause for optimism is the outlook of my own children - I look at them and see that the world is a much smaller place for them; they have been raised in a generation that believes they can go anywhere, do anything and that a social purpose is just as important as a paycheck. My biggest concern with the new workforce is their lack of patience and ability to understand the real and long term consequences of their decisions. They are not afraid to fail as they have never suffered punishment for failure ("everybody gets a trophy"). This allows them enormous creativity and out-of-the-box thinking, but they lack a concrete understanding of long term consequences (they sometimes short cut vs. diving deep for information, and often don't see the long term ramifications).
***About Bruce Tulgan's "The Wisdom of Strong Leaders" Series
Since 1993, Bruce Tulgan has worked with hundreds of thousands of leaders/managers in hundreds of organizations. Over more than two decades of research, training, and consulting, Bruce has encountered many, many truly great leaders: Strong, highly-engaged, rigorous, and steeped in proven best-practices. All of the best practices in Bruce's books and articles come from these real strong leaders in the real world. This series is a tribute to the wisdom of some of the very best of the best of those real strong leaders.

About Bruce Tulgan
Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Bruce is the best-selling author of numerous books including Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (Revised & Updated, 2016), Bridging the Soft Skills Gap (2015), The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014), , and It's Okay to be the Boss (2007). He has written for the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, and Training Magazine. Bruce can be reached by e-mail at brucet@rainmakerthinking.com, you can follow him on Twitter @BruceTulgan, Facebook, LinkedIn, or visit his website www.rainmakerthinking.com.

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