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Chris LoCurto

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June 9, 2011

Hey, I’m Right Here

In the movie What Women Want the fantastically talented Judy Greer plays the character Erin, a file girl who essentially never gets noticed. She’s the girl around the office who takes care of everyone else’s needs, but nobody really even knows her name. Therefore, she gets treated like…well…crap. Later in the movie, Mel Gibson’s character realizes that she’s actually a very talented girl but has been passed over due to her quiet, mouse-like personality.

I know a lot of leaders who right now would be saying, “Well, that’s her own fault! She needs to do something to stand out. She should read 17 books on ways to shine among your peers!” And while that could make a difference, I can’t help but wonder what book those leaders should read to teach them to actually spend time pulling talent out of their team members.

I’ve led people for 19 years, and there’s one thing I think my peeps would say: I look for input from all team members, not just the most outspoken ones. I have always taken joy in pulling as much out of a person as possible, pushing their limits and stretching them until they can’t return to the same shape. Why? Because an amazing thing happens when you do; you find out that someone is more than just a file girl. That the person you’ve been paying to do one job might actually have incredible input in other areas of the business. You see, I feel that it actually takes talent to see talent. The problem is, if you’re not looking, you won’t find it.

Now this isn’t nearly as much of an issue for those on your team who are outspoken. They will let you know most of their talents in the interview. But for a select few, you have to be proactive in your search for greatness.

A few things I like to do to find hidden talent are:

  • Spend one-on-one time with each team member. Ask them what they love about their position and what they would change about it. What do they see working well in your company and what would they change? You have to work at being personal with them, so they feel like you genuinely care about what they have to say.
  • Ask for their opinions in meetings. Now, this can backfire since most of the time this person is a high-detail personality and needs time to process before speaking. Give them a head’s up that you’re coming to them. This will frustrate the daylights out of them, but it starts the stretching process and gets them in the game. Once in the game, they begin to plan better for the next time you surprise them.
  • Ask them to pray. If you have a place where this is acceptable, you’ll find that this is another way of getting them out of their shell. I have yet to find one of these people who appreciate the first time you ask them to do this. But eventually, they begin to anticipate your leadership and will be ready just in case. Once again, you’re stretching them.
  • Continuously thank them for getting out of their comfort zone when you ask them to do stuff they weren’t expecting. If you don’t know this yet, people will do what they are praised for. If you pull hidden talent out, but don’t say anything about it, they won’t make the connection that they’ve done something good. They will just associate the uncomfortable feeling with you asking for help.

I asked one of my former team members what they thought about this and that person said:

  • You believed in me, so I could believe in myself.
  • You had confidence in me, so I had confidence in myself.
  • You challenged me, so I could challenge myself.

So the next time you pass by that person you hired and think, “What was his name?” maybe try spending a little time getting to know him. You might be surprised by what you find.

Question: What are some other things people can do to notice the hidden talents?

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  • Chris

    Sorry.  This may appear wordy. 
    Leaders have to be very careful when dealing with quietly competent people. 
     
    Many quietly competent are not only uncomfortable with trumpet blowing peers or leaders, but in many situations see it as arrogance or even worse a diversion tactic masking or over compensating shortcomings. 
     
    The quietly competent see trumpet blowers in the short term get rewarded rather than held accountable which pushes the quietly competent to further anger and resentment.  Even worse, because the accolades tend to make trumpet blowers even bolder, that boldness tends to lead them to make the big fatal mistake that ripples through the organization with horribly ill effects.  Yet the trumpet blower tends to have built in an escape route for diverting accountability. Or they have the ability to easily move on before the mess hits the fan.  If the bold move works after they are gone, it was because it was their idea and the perpetual motion they put into place.  If it fails, it was those who remained who messed up the brilliant idea. 
     
    The quietly competent are often just as recognized as the trumpet blower, but for the wrong reason.  The quietly competent are often seen as the dumping ground for unpopular or unglamorous projects because they tend not to push back.  The ‘Jack could probably competently do it but not be happy vs Susie will do anything asked’.  Susie was the path of least resistance.  Susie also knows she was dumped on.  Again.       
     
    All of this blunts the contributions the quietly competent can and want to make.  Or just as quietly, they leave to move to another company. 
     
    Also, understand what motivates the quietly competent.  Often the rewards that motivate the trumpet blower aren’t the motivators of the quietly competent.  Splashy rewards often aren’t what they are looking for.  Their rewards often need to be as quiet but as substantial as their contribution.  But remember, their contributions do need to be recognized. 
     
    Finally, the quietly competent aren’t always looking to be in a traditional leadership position.  Their forte often isn’t leadership.  It’s getting things done either through themselves or with and through others.  Yet their contributions often deserve leadership compensation.  Find a reward scheme that recognizes that. 
     

    • Chris

      Oops. Didn’t realize this was an oldie but goodie. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/carolynrosemiller Carolyn Miller

    My favorite part:

    “I have always taken joy in pulling as much out of a person as possible, pushing their limits and stretching them until they can’t return to the same shape. “

    • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

      Awww…you’re awesome!!!

  • http://lgthaxton.wordpress.com Louise Thaxton

    Chris – great thoughts! and a heads up to ME of some habits I probably need to change or new habits to implement.

    I have a great team and many times I “think” about how individual team members may have improved – or they are doing the extra mile – or their BRILLIANCE is shining. BUT I may fail to “speak” those thoughts publicly (within the team) and recognize them for their greatness and their brilliance. Sometimes I do – but sometimes I don’t.

    I especially liked what your team member said:

    •You believed in me, so I could believe in myself.
    •You had confidence in me, so I had confidence in myself.
    •You challenged me, so I could challenge myself.

    I think of the leaders in my life who have done just THAT – and if I am to GROW as a leader I must do the same.

    • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

      I wholeheartedly believe that our job as a leader is to make our team successful. Not the other way around. When we do that, as a natural result, we become successful. Great comment!