A few months ago I had the pleasure of welcoming 25 new graduates to Columbus.
Every year we bring a group of newly qualified candidates to the company and enroll them in an intensive training and development program in order to turn them into business consultants. The graduates often develop quite explosively, and I am always amazed at how much they are able to do and how fast they develop new skills. It is a very rewarding program for all people involved.
Every time I welcome the graduates, I wonder who the rising stars are. They all sparkle with positive attitude, and I can almost smell their ambition. They know that they are chosen, and that they need to perform and impress. They are ready, and have waited for and trained for this situation during their education. At the same time they are facing their first job and the start of their career, which further boosts the level of adrenaline.
It’s my experience that one to three of the graduates will not do well in our company. Shortly, they will realize that they have made the wrong choice, and move in a different direction. I also know that among the graduates there are several very skilled people who will have a fine career, and who will contribute to our business.
Finally, I know that one to three of the graduates will prove to be stars. Talent with the potential to change the direction of our company. I just do not know who’s who. As a leader it is essential to spot the talent. But how do you do that?
The immediate answer is to look for the talent who shout the loudest. They are usually the easiest ones to spot in the group, since they usually are the first ones to ask questions, and the ones that radiate confidence. They often ask good, well-argued and substantive questions because they want to stand out. The fire is burning in their eyes, and they typically hold an informal leadership position in the group. This type of talent will quickly make themselves known.
It is much harder to spot the talent who whisper. Typically, this talent does not yet have much confidence, because they do not believe they have anything to contribute with. Therefore, they do not feel comfortable standing out. The ambitions are there, but you cannot see it in their eyes, and you therefore have to look elsewhere. It takes longer to spot the whispering talent, and the risk of missing out is there. It is crucial that this talent enters the scene, when they are ready, not staying in the back row hoping to be discovered. Then even the most experienced leader can miss the potential.
As leaders, we have a tendency to overlook the whispering talent in our search for future employees. However, there is much undiscovered potential in the whispering talent. My experience is that as time goes by the shouting talent is often left behind by the whispering talent, but that the success rate is higher for the shouting talent, simply because they are easier to spot.
Four years ago, a young finance assistant started in Columbus. It was his first real job after he finished his master’s degree. He did not attract much attention. He was rather cautious, almost a little shy. However, we quickly found out that he was razor sharp. Not only, you could not complain about his work, but as we gave him more responsibility and showed him confidence, he developed into a promising talent. Often, he was the person in the team who took on the biggest challenges and then in his own quiet manner presented innovative ideas and new ways of solving advanced problems.
Today, he holds an executive position in our US subsidiary. He is responsible for expanding our market and streamlining processes across our US companies.
My advice is therefore that you as a leader should spend more time identifying the whispering talent, as the shouting talent will make sure to draw attention to themselves.
Thomas Honoré is Chief Executive officer and President of Columbus.