Why Great Leaders Scout Talent


By Jas Singh

Last night I watched the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League between two of the best soccer teams in Europe. Barcelona of Spain vs Bayern Munich of Germany. Two powerhouses of the game and both with an honours list bigger than the Eurotunnel.

The standard of play was astounding. Technically, athletically and even tactically. The transfer costs of assembling the teams was just as astronomical – with many of the players costing well over $50 million.

The game was decided by the mercurial Lionel Messi – arguably the best player in the history of the game – with 2 sensational goals and one assist. Yet the transfer cost of Messi? Nothing. He’d joined Barcelona as an eleven year old in their youth team and has been there ever since.

As a hiring specialist, most of my business still comes from retained searches. Yet often, as most recruiters will testify, the most satisfying placements are the unexpected ones. The ones where clients and candidates have met some time ago, but who stay in touch and re-connect when the timing is better. Sometimes, you only hear of the hire once the deal has been agreed.

I call these types of hiring managers scouts. These are the leaders who are always interested in connecting with the best talent in the market. Who can spot a gem when they see one. Who are always looking to grow and work with great people. Who don’t need an official job spec to create value.

They’re very rare to find. And for a recruiter they are incredibly valuable.

In any industry, whether is business, sports or politics, it’s important to try and stay one step ahead. And great leaders realise they can only do this by connecting with the right people. Even if it’s before the timing is right.

Here are some reasons why great leaders scout talent.

It allows them to react quickly

The only constant in the world today is change. Whether it’s running your own company, being the CEO of a corporate or coaching a sports team, you never know what is around the corner.

Ask any leader and they will tell you that the ability of their organisation to react in the best way often depends of the type of people they have. What happens if your CFO suddenly leaves? What if a new type of legislation has an immediate impact on your business? What if your customers suddenly want to move their platform to SaaS?

Recruiting the right people takes time. Time that in an acute situation, many leaders simply don’t have. Great leaders understand that by scouting and connecting with the right talent in the market it allows them to pull the trigger when they need to. Through scouting they develop powerful networks that allows them to react to diverse situations quickly.

Great leaders stay ahead of the game.

They realise the right people can always add value

One of the most frustrating things for candidates – especially highly skilled or experienced candidates is when a company or hiring manager simply refuses to meet them. The reason? Because “we don’t have any open positions”. Often, experienced candidates who know an industry well can see exactly what the company is doing wrong or an opportunity they can easily take advantage of. They just need a chance.

Admittedly, many leaders are too busy to be continuously interviewing. But there should always be exceptions. There is a difference between speculating and scouting – when scouting you are trying to assess what a particular candidate could bring and how that could be beneficial to your team.

Great leaders understand that there is always room for good people. Always a position for someone who has a plan that is beneficial to the company. That scouting regularly – especially those who come recommended through credible sources – allows them to take advantage of opportunities that others don’t even know exist.

Great leaders always make time for great people.

They realise attracting the very best takes time

People who are top performers are doing well. They are usually very well looked after, highly engaged and loyal to their current employer. Very rarely are they actively looking – and if they are, they are usually snapped up very quickly.

The best time to connect and build relationships with top performers is usually well before they are looking. Building these relationships and maintaining constant communication is a highly worthwhile investment. I have a financial services client who pays us a six figure retainer sum each year to identify, screen and arrange introductory meetings with the best performing people in his sector – whether he hires them or not. He meets on average 1-2 people a week across the world. Some he does hire immediately, but most of them he hires much later than when he first meets them. After they have developed mutual trust. His team is truly outstanding.

Great leaders know that like everything in life, building great teams takes time and effort. But the rewards are well worth it.

Great leaders invest in attracting the best people.


Life doesn’t go in straight lines.

In hiring, you can’t expect the top performers to be ready when you are.

Hiring managers can gain much from consistently scouting to build powerful networks.

It’s one of the best investments a leader can make.

Who are the very best people in your industry?

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