Take Jeremy Lin, the New York Knicks new sensational point guard. Due to injuries and the poor performance of other players, he was thrust into the starting line-up and has become a star. You’d have to live under a rock to not have read about Linsanity.
Lin did well playing high school basketball in Palo Alto, Cal., but couldn’t garner any athletic scholarships from the California colleges he wanted to attend, so he walked on at Harvard. Then he was undrafted by the NBA. He was eventually signed and cut by two teams when the Knicks claimed him off waivers. The Knicks were about to let him go when they decided to give him one more chance. He had a big game, and then another big game, and then another big game, and his career has taken off.
How could someone go unnoticed for so long, and in such a visible sport like professional basketball?
When Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant was asked this question, he said: “Players playing that well don’t usually come out of nowhere, but if you can go back and take a look; his skill level was possibly there from the beginning. It probably just wasn’t noticed.”
How many people on your payroll might have undetected talents?
The answer to that question goes far beyond who might be the best bowler for the company team, or the best face to feature on the company website. No, the mother lode is the employee whose resume was great on its own but much more humble than the candidate proved to be.
Finding that talent is a challenge, but there are some steps you can take to encourage your superstars. Try these ideas:
- Pay close attention to performance reviews. Managers should be on the lookout for special abilities or exceptional initiative. In addition, I would recommend having employees rate their own performance and explain what areas they are especially interested in developing.
- Reinstate the good old suggestion box. The employees who share innovative ideas may also be the folks who have some hidden talents that would help incorporate their suggestions. Reward the best ideas, and recognize them publicly so that others will be encouraged to share their unknown skills.
- Ask for volunteers. When a new project comes along, instead of just assigning people, invite employees to showcase their hidden talents. Perhaps you’ve seen the video of the Southwest Airlines flight attendant who found a way to ensure passengers would really pay attention to the typical pre-flight instructions. He decided to use his rap skills to make the announcement. The passengers will always remember where the exit rows are now, and the airline continues to bolster its reputation for making mundane travel fun.
- Don’t overlook less obvious advantages. A department assistant at an urban university liked to knit on her lunch hour. Soon other college employees brought their yarn and needles, and they gathered one day each week over lunch to make caps for newborns at the children’s hospital. They hadn’t known each other well before that, but as they became better acquainted, the interdepartmental cooperation burgeoned. And the university enjoyed some very positive community reaction as well.
When phone salesman Paul Potts told the judges on Britain’s Got Talent (a competition show like American Idol) that he was going to sing opera, judge Simon Cowell rolled his eyes and made a stinging remark about the contestant’s cheap suit. But Potts was used to bullies and unkind remarks. He’d heard them all his life. Something much bigger was at stake for him in that moment. He had talent, and he knew it. What he’d always lacked were the means and confidence to pursue the singing career he dreamed about. This competition was a long shot. But it was also his last desperate chance to connect with the recording industry and climb out of debt and a dismal job. And so he sang.
The Welsh tenor stunned the judges and brought the audience to tears with his performance. It was just the validation he needed to boost his confidence. Now, two CDs and two tours later, he insists he will remain the humble “everyman” he’s always been – just with better suits.
Mackay’s Moral: Hidden talents don’t have to be huge, but the results can be.