Everybody Counts

How a professional people person manages his staff

Name Marvin Ellison
Title President, Northern Division, Home Depot
Location Atlanta
Age 43
Power Play Managing 700 retail stores and 110,000 sales associates, he under- stands that everyone is valuable, “from the regional president running a multibillion-dollar business to the associate clearing carts out the parking lot.”

Which combination of sensibilities is essential to navigating the rank and file of retail?
Successful leaders have a very good knack for selecting talent. They understand that as leaders, the IQ of the team is much more important than the IQ of the person leading the team. Selection of talent is critical. Second to that, you have

to understand what steps you have to take to develop your own skills. You have to be very honest and have clarity around [what] you are good at and things you need to work on. Electing people is important and being able to develop oneself is equally important. The other thing that is essential is the ability to effectively communicate. As leaders who have spent a lot of time getting advanced education, we are sometimes fearful of creating things that are simplistic. Sometimes we think a simple plan may make us appear simplistic as leaders [and] as people. I’d argue that the most effective leaders are very good at taking complex analyses and processes and developing a simple way to articulate them.

Are people skills the hallmark of a great leader?
“People skills” is an overused term. It means you’ve taken the time to get to know the inner workings of the people you interact with. You understand their strengths and developmental needs. You understand their natural competencies, and the things that put them outside their comfort zone. When you truly understand your team’s skills, simply stated, their people skills, you then have the ability, as great leaders do, to get more from them than they ever thought possible. And you get it in a way that allows them to transport what [they've learned]. The great thing about people skills is that [they are] transferable from industry to industry, function to function. Great leaders are like great farmers-they fertilize and grow everything around them. If you have good people skills you [will see it] in the people around you, in how well they progress in their career and sustain a high level of performance.

How have the metrics used to judge a person’s people skills changed over the last 10 years?
The good news about the last 10 years is that you have a lot of available resources-online tools and very systemic tools. Things like online 360-degree evaluations that allow a person to get anonymous feedback from their peers, direct reports, and supervisors. It’s a 360-degree look [with] the person providing their own input on what they believe are their strengths and different leadership competencies. This is a very good evaluation because it gives you the opportunity to compare a person’s internal perceptions about their leadership skills [and] people skills to what their direct reports, peer group, and supervisors think.

We also use different types of assessments

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