How We Overlook Hidden Talent

In the history of every industry - manufacturing, tech, entertainment, sports, all industries - there have been many examples of talent that was overlooked only to be discovered at a later moment.

At times the talent was recruited by someone else, too late for the incumbent organization to reap the benefits of their talent pool.

Some of the most famous examples of talent that almost slipped through the cracks:

  • Tom Brady - This Super Bowl champion and MVP dropped to the 6th round and 199th pick of the draft before being selected by the New England Patriots.
  • Phil Collins - When Peter Gabriel left Genesis in the mid-1970's, the band auditioned over 400 vocalists before they discovered their drummer already had the voice they needed.
  • Kurt Warner - Was never drafted in the NFL. He started bagging groceries in addition to being an assistant coach, then was signed to the Arena Football League, after which the St. Louis Rams of the NFL noticed him. He led them to a Super Bowl Championship and MVP honors.
  • Becky Hammon - The WNBA star was discovered as a solid, knowledgeable coaching candidate while assisting the San Antonio Spurs of the NBA during a recovery from an injury.
  • Lucille Ball - This failed actress was told to pursue another career. She stayed the course and got a break into acting soon after.
  • Vincent Van Gogh - He only sold 1 painting in his lifetime. Of the 800 paintings he made, many sell for tens of thousands of dollars, some millions. His work was not truly appreciated until many decades after his passing.
  • Walt Disney - Walt was scorned by an art teacher that told him he couldn't draw and would never amount to anything. He was not amused by Disney's mouse caricatures and told him how foolish those doodles were.

Almost all of us probably have a story of talent we've seen that almost (or did) get away. I myself have been surprised at a talented young man who stepped up out of nowhere to successfully fill in a supervisor position and became a solid leader. There is more talent out there then we may believe, but it's a matter of being willing to find it.

There are many reasons that leaders don't hire talent, some intentional and some unintentional. Here are some key reasons:

Talent Overlooked - Sometimes we're just not discerning enough in hiring process. We enter into an open position with biases of who makes this position work.

We often have a face attached to the position, someone we know perhaps, and bend our efforts to slot that individual in that role. With that bias, we gloss over qualified people without truly looking at their potential in the role we're trying to fulfill.

Don't Take The Time - Yes, we're busy. But keep in mind we'll be busier if we hire the wrong people. Sometimes we just skim over the resumes, or don't truly open ourselves up to everyone in our departments being a candidate for a certain role. I interviewed one young man for an internal supervisor position, although I had my questions about his ability to lead. Besides, I was pressed for time. But in wanting to give everyone a fair chance, I scheduled an interview and was blown away by his customer service focus and knowledge. He ended as the runner-up for the position, and we identified him as a person to groom for the next opportunity. If I had not been open to interview him at all, he would have never had a chance with us.

Hiring Managers Pick Unqualified, Lower Talented People On Purpose - There is a department head, a very smart woman, who never hired anyone with a degree. She admitted herself that she wanted to be the person everyone went to, the knowledge keeper. What she ended up creating was a team of nice people that were afraid to make a decision without their boss. Leaders that do this want to control and micromanage their teams.

Poor Decisions Are Justified - I had a boss who shocked me once by his not selecting a qualified candidate for a position. When his director questioned him as to why, he stated that the applicant had background issues galore and wouldn't be a good fit. The excuse masked the fact that my boss felt that this person's knowledge and experience would challenge his as they both had comparable backgrounds. Sometimes poor leaders will insulate their position by marginalizing strong candidates who they feel are a threat.

Resume scanners don't qualify talent. While technology greatly aids in our quest to process volumes of cover letters and resumes, it fails in identifying those values or intangible qualities that are needed. A resume scanner can never qualify heart, values, or raw talent. Their isn't a hiring metric out there that measures drive, desire, or passion. People, and not technology, are truly the best measure for people.

Hiring Systems Don't Fully Work - This can be another discussion entirely, but some barriers such as stringent screening processes, HR not aligned with the organization, and lengthy processes miss and even hinder talent from coming aboard your team.

We Don't Truly Know Our Core Values - Leaders who successfully hire and develop their people seek out those candidates whose values are best aligned with the organization. Companies and leaders that fail at this don't look at the values of these people and see how they match up with the organization's mission and direction.

A Small Net Is Cast - We tend to recruit within our comfort zones, both personally and financially. In an effort to save money we spend less on recruiting and developing, whereas this expenditure done right reaps the greatest benefits financially in the long run. We don't seek candidates outside our normal networks because we're not comfortable, or perhaps passive, in our search for true talent. These factors reduce our potential pool dramatically.

In looking for true talent, consider the near misses of others. Tom Brady's heart did not show on the draft board. Phil Collins asked to be given the mike and a chance. Ball was resolved to prove everyone wrong. Disney kept doodling.