However, statistics show that companies consistently fail at identifying talents. Data suggests that up to 40% of individuals in high-potential programs may not belong there (Zenger and Folkman, 2017). A major reason for this is that scientific and objective methods for talent identification are rarely used. Talents are usually identified by managers who rely on their instinct and vary widely in their criteria on what is a talent. Not only do false positives cost money, it is also self-deceiving for both the person and the organisation.
What are the reasons for this?
Let‘s take an example of how a typical talent-to-be looks like. Have you ever met a person who is extremely charismatic, self-confident and speaks flawlessly in front of an audience? In addition to strong performance, their every move radiates self-assurance and competence? This kind of people are definitely the first to be identified as the most-promising individuals in the company. When they become leaders, it is very easy to believe everything they say and to blindly follow them.
Well, you will probably be dissapointed because the aforementioned characteristics of high self-confidence and so-called charisma are strongly connected to narcissistic personality disorder and psychoticism. Research in this area confirms that such traits are found much more often in boardrooms than in the average population (Chamorro-Premuzic, 2017). One might even notice that people generally tend to prefer self-confident leaders as opposed to humble and low-profile managers. We simply like „charismatic“ leaders, despite the fact that they often put other people down. However badly it may sound, the less self-confident and lost we are, the more we are likely to follow them. This creates toxic organisational cultures where such fatal characteristics are even rewarded and enable poisonous personalities to thrive.
The dark side of narcissism and over-confident people is that they have a huge blind spot and deluded self-views. As a consequence, they are not ready to change their perspective and are thus not coachable. They strongly resist personal development or any other kind of intervention. They even react aggressively to negative feedback. Unfortunately, without being able to see your true self, there is no real progress in life. A shiny side of talent that once served as a career boost may, due to its dark side, become a tragic derailer for many leaders.
In addition to narcissistic traits, there are also other types of flaws in talented people. For example, creative people are usually less reliable with poor attention to detail; diligent people are prone to procrastination and micromanaging; people with extremely developed social skills may use them to manipulate people. One needs to be aware that extremely positive characteristics always come with their downsides; the most important rule of thumb is to place those talents in a job position where their strengths contribute the most value and their weaknesses create as little damage as possible.
Finally, the highest self-deception for organisations are talented people who are not reaching their true potential. If performance is a function of effort (motivation) and talent (ability) (Chamorro-Premuzic, 2017), then an individual who is highly talented but shows weaker performance than their less talented colleagues is questionable for further development. Such people are literally wasting their potential due to poor motivation. It is worth looking at many possible reasons for this, as it may also be the manager‘s failure to properly engage such challenging individuals. In other words, if a talented person is not trying hard enough to develop to their best and the reasons are not within the organisation, it might be better to invest in somebody less talented but more willing and capable to progress. In the end, it is talent plus motivation that matters.
This is why it makes sense to deeply investigate whom you regard as talented and what is their true potential for future development. Maybe it‘s time to look deeper into organisational self-deception on talent management and to start looking objectively for stable, passionate and genuinely dedicated people instead.
• Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2017). The Talent Delusion: Why Data, Not Intuition, Is key to Unlocking Human Potential. London, Piatkus.
• Effron, M., Ort, M. (2010): One Page Talent Management. Eliminating Complexity, Adding Value. Boston, HBR Press.
• Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box (2010). The Arbinger Institute. Oakland, Berret-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
• Zenger, J., and Folkman, J. (2017). Companies are Bad at Identifying High Potentials. Harvard Business Review