One of the most remarkable people I ever worked with was a bank teller named Donna, at a bank branch I managed early in my career. Donna was a customer magnet. Brilliant. Hard working. Always went the extra mile. She was a single mother, and she’d been a teller for 12 years. I recommended to my boss, one of the bank’s Vice Presidents, that we promote Donna to the management training program. He dismissed the idea, ignoring her talent, and citing instead her rough appearance, lack of formal education, and even what part of town she came from.
Donna’s 12 year career with that bank ended when she was recruited into a very responsible position at a competing bank.
Shortly thereafter, I left the bank, and Donna and I got out of touch. So I was surprised when six years later, she called to invite me to a party at her home to celebrate her son’s high school graduation. After I confirmed that I’d be there, she said, “Great! You know we’ve moved. I’ll send you the directions. And give your name to the guard at the security gate.”
Donna had done alright. Twenty years after that, I was invited to Donna’s retirement from the bank in which she had served as a Vice President.
It’s easy to overlook the talent that abounds in people who might be described as diamonds in the rough. And you don’t even have to be as malicious as my boss in that story. We all have biases. But the best leaders have this great ability to filter out the things that don’t matter, and find and develop that potential that so many people have, even if they don’t fit the traditional molds. Think about it. One of the most far-reaching and impactful decisions you’ll ever make as a leader is to help someone develop their career. It’s just as valuable to do that with an obvious star. But how much more impact might you be able to have when you bring out the luster of that hidden gem?
Identify today, someone you lead, who could use your help in developing their talent, and who deserves it. Someone with great potential, but who may not fit neatly into all the little boxes that we sometimes set up. Have a career discussion with them, and help to get them on their path.
You may never know what impact you’ve had by taking an interest in someone’s career, and helping them apply their talent, and their hard work to doing things they may never have imagined.