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“Instead of exploring the unique talents each employee has to offer, most look for – and find – shortcomings.”
— Misti Burmeister

Have you ever looked at someone and immediately recognized talent? There was something about the way they dressed, their sense of initiative, or the questions they asked that led you to think, “This is the kind of person I want on my team.”

How about the opposite?

One leader, Tina, told me about a young lady, Jo, who came to her office for an interview in clothing most people wear to the beach. Immediately, Tina decided Jo was not a good fit, but went through the motions of the interview anyway.

Through the interview process, she learned that Jo was the very first person in her family to go to college. She had “drive and determination in her eyes,” Tina said. “As the interviewed progressed, it was obvious that she had a lot of talent, and just needed a little coaching.”

Five years later, Jo was running her own accounts, and playing an integral role in the financial success of Tina’s business.

We all make up stories about other people: what they can and cannot do, why we think they’re a good person, how they’re super-fit or not so healthy. Almost without thought, we decide how we’ll treat others based on the stories we conjure up.

A few weeks back, just after completing a 2k training swim, I got out of the pool, exhausted. Swimming one lane over from me was a group of lightning fast swimmers who had managed to push me (subconsciously) to swim harder and faster than normal.

As I was toweling off, I mentioned to one of the lifeguards, “Gosh, they’re fast! Or maybe I’m just super slow!”

“Those are the Olympians,” she said.

When I looked closer, I saw “Rio2016” on their swim caps and got inspired. I was swimming with Olympians – how cool is that!

A few days later, I saw those red caps again and got excited. Rather than attempt to keep up with them, though, I enjoyed my workout, and then jumped out of the pool to watch them.

I wanted to see how they swam and learn from them. Their strokes were smooth, and they all kicked super hard. I watched, sort of mesmerized, as they zipped back and forth so effortlessly.

That same evening, I had dinner with my swim coach and a few friends. “I got to swim with the Olympians again,” I cheered, “Then, I watched and took notes,” I said, so proud to be a new member at Meadowbrook Aquatic & Fitness Center in Baltimore.

“What time did you swim today?” Marci, my coach, asked.

When I told her she said, “Oh, that wasn’t the Olympians. It was probably a high school team practicing.”

“No, no,” I said, “They had the ‘Rio2016’ caps on.”

“Misti,” she laughed, “They give those caps to the kids that are just starting out. Everyone gets one.”

After we all laughed, I realized how much more I got out of watching the high school team practice because I thought they were Olympians. I took special notice of all their moves, and found myself curious about every facet of their workout.

If I had known they were only high school students, I doubt I would have been so curious – or impressed. As a result, it’s unlikely I would have put the effort into watching and learning.

Some leaders, like Tina, catch themselves quickly enough, but most of us overlook the talented people that are sitting right under our noses.

Rather than see a new – or young – employee as brilliant, innovative, and full of promise, many see an inexperienced, lazy, and self-centered newbie. Instead of exploring the unique talents each employee has to offer, most look for – and find – shortcomings.

Imagine how differently your team would perform if you focused on nurturing the Olympian in each of them.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION – What have you learned from a new or young employee that surprised you? Did it change your expectations of that person? Did it change how you treat that person?

Thanks to Dexter Britain and Gillycuddy for their music contribution and LN Lurie for producing this podcast.

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