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Employee Talent Hiding in Plain Sight

Kip Kelly has written another excellent article over on the UNC Executive Development Blog on identifying and developing talent. He uses Matthew McConaughey’s career as a lens to explore how someone’s potential might be hiding in plain sight.

McConaughey had some early career success and seemed to be coasting on a wave of celebrity.

He was popular, no doubt, but deemed only a mediocre talent by most critics. In 2009 – 2010 McConaughey deliberately took a break from acting.

I can’t say for sure why he stepped out of the public eye, but I can guess: he knew he was capable of more.

He knew he had potential that wasn’t being realized.

Since his return to the screen he has taken on meatier and more challenging roles — roles such as a male stripper in Magic Mike and an HIV-infected cowboy in Dallas Buyers Club. The critics have stood up and taken notice. McConaughey has recently received an Oscar nomination as well as a Golden Globe award.

Look Broader and Deeper Than Just The Past

Like those critics who judged McConaughey initially, we have a tendency to think that past performance is an indicator of future results. 

And yet, we know this isn’t true in other realms. The financial industry warns us with every earnings call and SEC filing that past performance is not an indicator of future results. (It helps that such advisories are required by the SEC.) However, in building our organizations and in leading others we make exactly this mistake.

It’s just too easy to assume that a past superstar will continue to shine in future roles — or that a mediocre performer is so because of their limited abilities and not because of the context in which they work.

Remember, “high potential” depends not only on abilities and performance but also on willingness and context. As leaders, we have significant responsibility over other latter. 

Kip Kelly says it well in his post,

Demonstrated ability to get results is critical, but it may be a poor predictor of future potential — especially if a future role will require different knowledge and skills. There’s no guarantee that a high-performing individual will be successful when they are promoted to a new position…

Our job as managers and leaders is to draw out the best in people — to draw them into their “sweet spot.” This is not easy.

This speaks to a larger problem — creating an organizational culture where talent development is encouraged; an environment where managers encourage and enable their star performers to move into new, more challenging roles

But then, who ever said that leadership was supposed to be easy?

What context are you creating for your employees? How broadly and deeply are you looking into their abilities and willingness to do more?

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