The naturalPosted: September 29, 2004
Came across a few paragraphs in a Fast Company article about leadership that made me think a bit about all the smart folks I know and how they got so darn smart. The usual spuspects are school or raw brain power. But how much does talent play into the equation in professional success? Here’s the excerpts that got me thinking:
So if leadership can’t be taught or transferred, how do you foster it? Where do you find leaders, and how do you create them? The truth is that in most fields, it’s a natural process. Leaders are men and women who have chosen the right profession. They’re good at it, and because they’re good at it, they like it, and because they like it, they’re even better at it. They’re so good at it that they’d rather work than play. They’re naturals, and excelling comes naturally as well. They’ve understood their field from the start, and they’ve studied it without even knowing they’ve studied it. They could look around from the day they joined an organization and understand the talents of those who went before them, understand the people around them, and know when and just how hard to push them.
What they have is precious — nothing less than a gift. They may realize when they’re relatively young that they have a genuine talent and that they can go quite far, much farther than they originally thought. But often, they don’t become serious until midcareer, because their own talent surprises them — they were not that brilliant when they were in college or just starting out. Academic excellence, after all, rarely translates into professional success, and the special intelligence that makes leaders thrive in their field is not necessarily an intelligence that transfers well to other fields. They are extremely well prepared, and they push themselves hard. Most crucial to leadership, they give off a unique aura, the sum of their confidence, their tone of voice, their feeling for command. They are not people you want to fail.
After reading the GLAT sillieness, the end goal for Google (or any other company for that matter) in avoiding hiring false positives makes sense at the surface. The thing that I don’t think these tests uncover is those naturals out there. Just like school isn’t a predicter of professional success, interview tricks while probably successful at making sure nincompoops aren’t hired, they just as likely might miss the naturals out there. Just think, one of those false negatives may be walking away from their failed interview with billions in incremental revenue in their heads. Is a billion in revenue worth hiring some false postives? I’d certainly say so! You can always fire low performers. But you can’t make super stas materialize from thin air.
Given some of the most talented people I’ve worked with came from very non traditional backgrounds, the “avoid false positives at all costs” model doesn’t hold a lot of weigth for me. Should we kick all of the stupid people out of America so we can have the best country in the world? Of course not. You can’t have diverse society without, well, diversity. I think the same should hold for companies. Now I’m not advocating keeping standards low for hiring practices. My strategy preference would be to hire for diversity–not just from the racial perspective, but from the professional, experiencetial and acedmic perspectives. But that sounds too vague. Exactly!