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Finding a Diamond in the Rough - Facts and Fictions About Recognizing Potential

Updated on March 27, 2014

Do You Know How to Find Employees with Potential?

The Science Behind Recognizing Potential

The art of recognizing potential has rigorous science behind it. Spotting, cultivating and nurturing talent are essential skills in just about every industry. It is difficult to state the importance of having valuable people surrounding us at work. As with networking and collaboration, when it comes to discovering the potential in others, reciprocity styles shape our approaches and our effectiveness.

Psychologists have spent several decades investigating what it takes to identify the most talented candidates for the United States military. Their research proved the science behind recognizing potential in future employees.

Optimizing Your Potential Relies on Believing You Have Potential

Dov Eden is a psychologist who was involved in the studies on the military in the 1980s. Eden developed a formula to predict which Israeli soldier would become top performers in the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces). By examining comprehensive assessments of close to a thousand soldiers who were about to arrive for training, Eden was able to identify a particular group of high-potential trainees who would emerge as the stars of the IDF.

Components of Eden's research included evaluations during basic training, appraisals from previous commanders, and health history. Eden drew inspiration from Robert Rosenthal, a Harvard psychologist who examined the potential in young children by administering numerous exams that tested their verbal skills, reasoning skills and problem solving skills. Through these exams, Rosenthal was able to identify which children would succeed in school and which students would have trouble.

The catch to Rosenthal's experiment was that the overachievers and high performers were told that they would succeed. His results showed that it didn't matter how a student did on the exam, it mattered how well they thought they did on the exam.

Random students in Rosenthal's study who didn't do well on the exam itself, but who were told that they did well, turned out to be high performers several years later. When the students and their teachers believed that they were the high performers, they pushed themselves to prove that they were, regardless of their results on the first exam.

Rosenthal proved that potential was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

We All Have Potential - Let Yours Shine Bright

Maximize Your Potential!

Polishing a Diamond in the Rough - Helping Employees Achieve Their Potential

C.J. Skender is famous for recognizing potential in students. Following the work of Eden and Rosenthal, Skender views every student that walks into his classroom as a diamond in the rough. Some need more polishing than others, but all of the students have a unique potential just waiting to be unleashed. Skender would congratulate students when they excelled, and encourage them when they struggled.

Studies have shown that accountants are more likely to achieve their potential when they receive the same type of encouragement. Skender's approach contrasts with the basic model most companies follow when it comes to leadership development: identify high-potential people, provide them with mentoring, provide support and supply them with resources needed to grow and achieve their potential.

Despite the popularity of this model, companies may be starting in the wrong place when it comes to recognizing potential. For many years, psychologists believed success relied on finding talent first, then motivating that talent. Recently psychologists have come to the conclusion that they had it backwards. First you motivate the person, then you find the talent.

Don't Throw Good Money at Bad Talent

Because they see potential all around them, some managers end up investing too much time encouraging and developing people to achieve their potential. We can encourage someone all we want, but if they aren't were they are meant to be, they will not thrive.

One big mistake organizations make is over-investing in people who possess loads of passion but fall short on aptitude. There is a big difference between encouraging talent in people and over-investing time in those who will never met your expectations.

You can try as hard you wish, but you will probably never teach an NFL quarterback to become an NHL goalie.

Unlocking Our Potential is Up to Us

The Escalation of Commitment

Escalation of commitment is a phrase coined by world-renowned organizational behavior professor. Escalation of commitment refers to the fact that once people make an initial investment of time, energy, or resources, if the investment goes sour, they are at risk for increasing their investment and receiving no return.

Gamblers in the hole believe that if they just play one more hand, they'll be able to recover their losses, or even win big. When something we invested in doesn't pay off, we don't tend to back out, but rather we tend to invest more.

Finding Potential in Unexpected Places

C.J. Skender's studies proved the value in finding potential in people where others don't see it. Those in the spotlight are not always the brightest stars, rather they are just the ones people focus on the most.

While some people constantly strive to be the smartest, the fastest, the strongest or the best, others focus on being receptive to expertise from others - always eager to learn more. Though one person may not exhibit the qualities of another, it is not always because they can't access those qualities, but because they never believed those qualities were there.

Once someone sees the potential in another, then chooses to foster and nurture that potential, the results are limitless. But if someone is closed up to the idea that they have room to grow, they will never become more than they are right now - interfering with their own potential.

Your Greatest Potential Lies Deep Within You

Do you think you can recognize the true potential in others?

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