Career Guide

Navigating today’s talent challenges

4 things every leader must address

Leaders today are faced with a myriad of challenges that only grow in complexity by the day.

The complex decisions, industry changes and the war for talent soak up much of a leader’s time amidst other decision points biting at their ankles. Every. Day.

To add to the uncertainty of leadership challenges, many of these challenges are intangible.

Navigating uncertainty in any field requires the clarity to know what’s “right”, the competence and confidence to carry it out and the curiosity to continually question what “is”.

If that’s not enough, here are four more talent challenges leaders face if they want to maintain high performers.

1 Unclear or absent purpose

Purpose is a powerful force.

Purpose was what pulled me through eight deployments as a Navy SEAL while getting shot on two of them, surviving four parachute malfunctions and losing more friends than some people can count.

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If employee performance isn’t tied to purpose, then they’re operating on willpower and discipline and each eventually run out.

Don’t get me wrong, willpower and discipline are important, but they’re “muscles” and like all other muscles in the body, they become tired.

When they tire out, that’s when you raise the white flag and say, “Okay, I’m done here. Next!”

If you want to attain, retain and sustain talent, you need to tie purpose into everything you and your company do.

2 Infrequent feedback loops

We know what it’s like to be a customer returning a product to a store, only for the employee behind the desk to take forever in that process.

Or, when you call the cable company and you’re on hold forever, so much that you vow to never again renew your subscription with them (but of course you do because they’re a lesser degree of terrible).

The same is true for your team and your employees.

Annual or quarterly performance reviews never made sense to me for the following reason: if an issue is worth “correcting” or managing now, then it was worth “correcting” way back when it actually happened – today is too late!

For example, if I receive feedback on a project or behaviour that occurred six months ago, what I really hear is: this [subject] is being brought up to fill time. If it wasn’t important to bring up back then, it isn’t important to bring up now.

This delay in delivering feedback is also going to cause me to question two things about the feedback manager:

- trust

- competence

If I’m not receiving feedback until months later on a particular task or project, then that also tells me that my performance isn’t that valued, which leads to trust issues between myself and the feedback manager.

Alternatively, the delay in feedback may not have anything to do with me – it may be the feedback manager’s unwillingness to have such conversations, which speaks about his or her self-confidence as a leader. Not ideal.

3 Overwhelm

With the onslaught of information that tries to topple us from our desks every day, overwhelm is a very real threat to managing top talent.

Overwhelm stems from a lack of clarity; uncertainty about what to prioritise or a hesitancy to ask “what’s important?” and “why?”

Overwhelm comes when there’s no guidance that distinguishes between urgency and importance, or, what’s easy and immediate versus what requires more effort but pays dividends down the road.

When “everything” is a priority then nothing is, and this is the fastest route towards employee burnout.

4 Politicking

It exists in every organisation but that doesn’t make it right.

Politicking – promoting self-interest – is toxic, and it drives away the most talented employees for the simple fact that they “just don’t want to deal with it anymore”.

The basis of politics is an absence of trust, because if there were trust, then people wouldn’t worry about their self-interests not being met.

There are three ways to go about politicking:

- Continue playing.

This requires a systemic view of the land and a lot of medicine because the only thing you’ll get from playing more politics is a headache.

- Don’t play.

See above.

- Unearth relationship dynamics.

The trouble with not having difficult conversations is that the problem resurfaces down the road, leaving you no better than where you were before.

If low trust is a source of playing politics, then aim to rebuild trust by having difficult conversations and asking powerful questions.

Nothing good ever comes easily, and improved performance is no different.

Of course, this is not an all-inclusive list (I wish it was as that would make things a lot easier).

What are your leadership challenges?

- Jeff Boss is a former Navy SEAL who helps business teams find clarity in chaos. He is a contributor at Forbes and, speaks at the Harry Walker Agency, and recently authored “Navigating Chaos: How To Find Certainty In Uncertain Situations”. This article first appeared on Forbes. What are your thoughts after reading this article? Tell us at