Whitney Johnson's picture Submitted by Whitney Johnson March 6, 2018 - 1:26pm

High recruitment turnover hardly seems like a desirable outcome, but for Coach John Calipari of the University of Kentucky’s men’s basketball team, this is merely another measurement of his success as a developer of talent. Calipari’s basketball team is known in the collegiate athletic world as a “springboard” for the NBA draft pick. Recruits anticipate that a single season played at Kentucky will uniquely showcase their skills and maximize an NBA opportunity, and their hopes are not of the pie-in-the-sky variety: in 2015, six Kentucky players were drafted, including the number one pick overall for the fourth time during Calipari’s tenure. In 2016, every Kentucky player that was eligible declared for the NBA draft.

What does this mean for Calipari as a leader and talent developer? He couldn’t be happier. As he tweeted out in 2015, “One of my absolute favorite nights of the year, when our guys have their dreams come true.” Instead of viewing this turnover as a weakness of his program, he converts it to a strength. By recruiting high-talent athletes, his team competes at a distinctive level that attracts other players who may stay for successive seasons. While they never quite rise to the level of stardom of their peers, they are nevertheless terrific athletes. They are the key to the on-going success of the team, and Calipari nurtures them—as he does all his athletes—to retain the preeminent reputation essential to keeping top prospects revolving through Kentucky’s doors.

Managers have a unique ability to drive personal disruption, which in turn facilitates innovation at the team (or company) level. It may seem disheartening to watch someone that you’ve mentored, nurtured, and carefully developed walk out the door, but when you are seen as a talent developer you attract the caliber of individuals who are more willing to stretch and innovate, pushing not only themselves but the team that surrounds them to greater heights.

As a coach and speaker, I have the opportunity to meet with individuals from all walks of life who are on what I like to call the “learning S-curve.” At the low end of this curve is discomfort and excitement of the unknown, when individuals are still getting their feet wet and discovering what is expected. At the high end is mastery, confidence, and (sadly) dullness—when the challenge is gone, so is the spark. The middle, or the “sweet spot,” is where an individual is happiest, learning quickly and becoming highly engaged in what is going on. I have learned that companies and organizations are collections of these individual learning curves, resulting in either a company that innovates or a company that stagnates.

Sometimes managing an innovative team can make you feel vulnerable, but it is possible to manage the chaos of change and learn how to help people all along the S-curve, including what to do when they reach the top of the curve. You build an A-team by optimizing these individual curves, and as employees are allowed, even required, to surf their individual S-curve waves, you will not only be less vulnerable to disruption, you’ll get the gold star—be a boss people want to work for.

Players are drawn to Coach Calipari’s team because they know that he will push them, stretch them, develop them, and, when it’s in their best interest, let them leap to a new challenge. Just as Coach Calipari embraced the revolving door of his top-tier recruits, so can we embrace the reality that our high-end performers may need to jump to a new S curve. Those that remain behind will be emboldened by the culture that this creates. They know that their wings will not be clipped as they try to soar, and the entire team will be lifted by their efforts.