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A few things we learned about leadership

Fireside chat with Leslie Knowlton

At Deloitte University (DU), developing and growing excellence in leaders at all levels is what we do best.

How is the definition of leadership different at Deloitte?

Leslie: All of our professionals can be leaders in their own context. We don’t start with an abstract definition of leadership or a checklist—the “five things you need to do to be a leader”—and then try to fit people to the mold. Instead, we recognize that the things you do well, define how you lead. Those are the strengths you have and the areas where your talents really shine. So leadership development at Deloitte is about how you can leverage those strengths in a more meaningful way, to be more effective. This is our strengths-based focus.

What do you mean when you say ‘strengths-based focus?’

Leslie: Our strengths-based focus looks at performance in a new way: It shifts the focus from a formula of high performance and leadership to the individual. What are your strengths? How can we best develop and leverage them? The top individual performers and teams get to use their strengths every day. That’s how they make their greatest contribution. Strong leaders understand one another’s strengths and those of their team members. They can lean on them to do their best.

How does that focus on strengths translate to a career path?

Leslie: We don’t just have one linear career path for everyone. We want our people to transcend the former definition of a career path, and leverage skills in places where it’s most fitting and comes naturally. From there, they can grow. Where are your passions? Where do you do your best work? Where will you thrive? Think of your career not just as a straight trajectory, but as an iterative process that involves trying new things, and figuring out where your strengths are. That way you can own your career.

What does owning your career entail?

Leslie: It means looking after your own development and finding your path. You’ve got plenty of support, resources, great colleagues and mentors, and countless opportunities at Deloitte. But taking meaningful steps forward in your career starts with you, discovering your strengths, applying them to the immediate tasks at hand, and then trying new things—figuring out where your strengths can take you, and how you can grow. This is the key to building a career that works for you.

Why does measuring performance matter, and how is Deloitte expanding the definition of performance?

Leslie: Traditionally, performance was measured by looking at the past. It was sort of a report card. Now we’ve developed performance management that can look at individuals, teams, and the organization in real time. We have more reliable data that allows us to ask not just “How did you do?” but "How are you doing" and “How can you do better?” Those are the right questions: We’re measuring because want to give people insights into their own development, and help the organization leverage the strengths of its people and its teams. The focus is on the future and on building a stronger organization.

How does DU and its charge to grow the world’s best leaders fit into the picture?

Leslie: DU is all about developing your strengths as a leader. It’s a place where you can test yourself and find out what works for you. And it’s also a place where you can make new connections, focus on your own growth, and build colleagues for life. One of the things we hear consistently about DU is that it’s a place where people have conversations and make connections they never expected to make. It’s serendipity by design: You find yourself in the company of leaders, people from all around the firm. And where leaders gather, great things happen: new ideas take shape, new opportunities emerge; you find new ways to apply your leadership abilities and your career takes on a new momentum. DU can be a performance accelerator.

Leslie Knowlton managing partner Talent Development Deloitte & Touche LLP
Leslie Knowlton, managing partner, Talent Development, Deloitte & Touche LLP

Pivoting toward the workforce of the future

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