After having spent 40 years in the leadership development space, we like to think we’ve learned a thing or two. This week, we continue the story of change that Vantage’s five partners have experienced over the years. Last week, we shared what Managing Partner Keith Goudy, Founding Partner Carl Robinson, and Partners Mike Tobin, Jacki Ackerman, and Dave Sowinski had to say about effective leadership from when we opened our doors in the late 70s through the global economic changes of the 80s and early 90s. This week, we’ll dive right back in and continue to discuss what happened next. Let’s continue where we left off – shall we?

People Don’t Quit Organizations, They Quit Bosses

Dave called out “those heavy handed management styles,” and we discussed how changes in the global economy began to not only illustrate the potential for other successful leadership approaches, but also necessitate different styles for long-term business success. Perhaps unsurprisingly, when we made our initial foray into the executive coaching space, we were most often tasked with “jerk-fixing”. Companies would bring us in to “fix” the leader that made his employees cry, or pushed them so relentlessly that turnover became the norm.

“Our coaching was more focused on people that weren’t doing well, versus ‘this person is amazing I should invest in them,’” Jacki said. From a results-perspective, these so-called “jerks” might be effective, and were often technically very skilled; however, their approach was simply not sustainable for organizations that had begun to catch on to the idea that it is the people resources that truly differentiate the best companies. As Dave put it, “the idea that people quit bad bosses is such a key thing.”

From IQ to EQ

In 1995, Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence – Why it can matter more than IQ hit the shelves, illustrating a key turning point in the leadership space. “The definition of what talent looks like has changed,” Carl said, “the bar has raised. The emphasis on what we might call soft skills has come up, as well as hard skills, like decision-making, political savvy and so on. There’s a heightened awareness of these things and there’s research to back it up. So it’s pretty well tested and proven that the right kind of leaders can make a big difference to a business and its performance.”

“People might begin to believe that all you have to do is hire for emotional intelligence and then you realize it’s more broad-based than that.” Keith said. “The importance of intelligence has always been paramount, and the importance of having a good personality, and you know, EQ, does get at some good stuff – how do you manage yourself, and how do you manage others?” This theme was further built out by Jacki: “Before it was just intelligence, now it’s emotional intelligence and it’s analytical ability and strategic thinking and insight and perspective, and before [assessment and selection] was so one-dimensional: is this person smart? And it’s now much more of a conversation.”

“There’s a bar below which you have inadequate interpersonal skills, and it can be a limiter to your success as a leader,” Mike said, “but you don’t have to have the most fantastic interpersonal skills to be a fantastic leader. You have to cross a threshold to be skilled enough. But that threshold keeps going up. The bar keeps going up on expectations.”

The Developing War for Talent

“Once you begin to decide that this sort of leadership talent is valuable, you then discover that it’s scarce,” said Carl. “This is a fabulous market condition. High demand, low supply. When those things clash, it drives up competition for those resources, and the cost of those resources. In business, the talent became very desirable.”

“Finding really talented people is tough.” Dave said. “To keep good talent you’ve got to demonstrate more of the characteristics we’re talking about.”

And so begins the shift in executive coaching engagements from “jerk-fixing” to “value creation.”

“The funny influence on coaching was very ironic,” Mike said. “It was Y2K. The Y2K phenomenon had a lot of talented people just quit their jobs and get a better job across the street by the end of the afternoon. IT talent was, like, you were in unbelievable demand. Ironically, firms starting throwing coaching as a retention perk, not really having any expectations for it. And then the amazing thing happened. You give a coach to a talented person and she does what she does with any resource: she uses it.”


Next week, on our way to discussing the future, we’ll take one final look at the leadership space today, and delve into some of the reasons behind the ever-increasing war for talent.


This post was co-authored by Lees Parkin and  Stefanie Mockler.