My husband recently introduced me to Wriston's Law of Capital. He mentioned it in passing as we were leisurely sipping our morning coffee. The powerful concept behind the law would not let me enjoy the rest of the day until I connected it with one thing that's often on my mind: talents. The law states:
Capital will always go where it's welcome and stay where it's well-treated.
Economists have used this law to predict the prosperity of companies -- and even countries -- based on how well they welcomed investment capital. But I happen to agree with Forbes' Rich Karlgaard's assertion that capital is more than just money; it's also people and ideas.
For me, as a Strengths Coach, this law explains why some leaders attract people, while others seem to outright repel them. It can be reduced to two keys: welcoming others' talents and then treating those talents well.
Capital will always go where it's welcome.
I love that word "welcome"! It makes me think of my native Poland. I remember visiting Krakow in 1992, when the country was still figuring out how to move away from communism toward democracy. While there, I shopped at two clothing stores. Both greeted customers with beautiful signs that said, "Zapraszamy" -- Polish for "Welcome!"
As I walked into the first store, the workers didn't acknowledge me. When I tried on a jacket, they sharply told me not to touch the merchandise. I did not feel welcome.
But the owner of the second store greeted me with a happy "Hello!" and invited me to look around. I lingered for a while and even made a purchase, eager to support this welcoming entrepreneur. Can you guess which store continued to thrive while the other closed shortly thereafter, becoming a textbook example of Wriston's Law?
We know when we are welcome, don't we? At work or at home, when others try to understand the natural way we think, feel and behave, and when they appreciate us, we engage with them.
To attract and retain the best talent, successful leaders create an environment that makes others feel like their natural talents and strengths are welcome. This approach is simple but not easy. It demands that leaders be people-focused, deliberately seeking the right opportunities for their people to use their unique talents.
As leaders, how good are we at spotting and welcoming the diverse talents, perspectives and approaches of others? Are we as mindful of them as we are of the capital in our bank accounts?
Capital will … stay where it's well-treated.
To treat something or someone well requires sacrifices of time and effort; it costs us something.
Just last week, my husband asked me to water his garden while he was away on a four-day business trip. I didn't prioritize it, so I completely forgot to do it -- with disastrous consequences: Two of his prized tomato plants died in the hot Texas sun because I didn't treat them well.
The best leaders retain the talent they've attracted if they treat it well. I believe that involves two priorities: investing in people's natural talents and allowing them to make their best contributions.
First, let's consider what it means to invest in the natural talents of those around us. The challenge of growing inherent talents into bona fide strengths takes reflection time, intentional practice of new skills and gathering of relevant knowledge.
Leaders who invest in their people provide them with the resources necessary to grow their talents into strengths. No one has ever seen an athlete start riding a bike one day and then qualify for the Tour de France 30 days later, right? Great leaders make plenty of room for their people to "fall off the bike" -- to fail safely. But in the end, their people succeed as they increasingly move toward excellence at carrying out a task or activity with consistency, predictability and near-perfect precision.
Second, what can we as leaders do to help those around us leverage their talents and strengths so they can make their best contributions? The most effective leaders understand that when individuals bring their best to the team, they make the team better. It takes patience, intentionality and understanding that the process might be messy. Yet these leaders embrace those in their lives who bring what they do best to the table.
How good are we as leaders at assigning relevant projects to our people so they can practice doing what they do best for greater impact? Are we willing to wait for our ROI, remembering that capital is not just money; it's also talent and ideas?
As leaders, we have two keys at our disposal for unlocking the magic in our followers: "Welcome" and "Treat well." How we use these keys will always be dictated by our own talents and strengths, as we invest in them ourselves. But what should keep us going back to these keys is our genuine curiosity about and interest in other people.
What are your daily practices as a leader that help you stay curious about the talents of others and remind them they're in a safe place to try out those talents?
Now, back to my morning coffee.
Joanna Wiesinger's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Maximizer, Achiever, Input, Communication and Activator.