John Dahlin

Stories of Excellence: “If the wild mustangs kick down the corral once in a while, I’m OK with that.”

by Heather Hughes on March 14, 2013

John Dahlin

When I arrived at DSW I was like a sponge, learning from the best as quickly as I could. But at some point I presumed to know more than the best. Yes, I actually saw fit to tell John Dahlin a thing or two about talent management. I can’t say that I was crazy, just stupid.

Things were pretty competitive at DSW. The type A energy could be frustrating at times, even for me. A few people had left the agency. I was upset. I told John there was a problem and that he should do something about it. This is how he replied, “If the wild mustangs kick down the corral once in a while, I’m OK with that.” Clearly he’d rather have a stable of go-getting high achievers and a little turmoil now and then than a bunch of tame or even complacent workers.

The point of this story is not just that John knew how to create an environment of excellence – it’s a real achievement to recruit and lead the best – it’s also that he didn’t tell me where to go and how to get there. John could have dressed me down for presuming I knew more than he did about running a talent-driven business. Instead, he kindly told me his approach: employ only the best and let them do their best.

John created a dynamic, challenging, and rewarding environment at DSW. Thanks John, for the great times and for letting me in on your winning approach.

Lessons in Excellence, for Leaders and Up and Comers

  • Hire the best of the best
  • Create a dynamic environment where talent can flourish
  • Relish competition, you can get better because of it
  • Stay humble and learn from your superiors
  • Be kind to presumptuous employees

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