The Problem with Potential

Potential text concept isolated over white background

Who has “High Potential” in your organisation?

I took part in an interesting discussion yesterday which turned to reflections on school days.  It seemed for quite a few of us, the school system failed to recognise our talents, traits and characteristics and paid little heed to our styles of learning or rate of development.

I well remember as a puny 13 year old taking to the rugby field for the first time with lads who were much bigger than me and hating every minute.  I liked football, I was pretty good in goal and had quick feet as a winger, yet none of that mattered in a school that almost exclusively played rugby in winter and cricket in summer.  Likewise “athletics” was confined to short sprints or one or two laps of the track.  I was never the fastest and I realised later in life I was quite good at running longer distances.  I still am.  I enjoyed writing and creativity yet only achieved moderately good marks in English.  Ditto music and my school years played no part in developing the interests I have now or the skills I’ve acquired since.  The system failed me and others.

Note: Ken Robinson talks about his conversation with Paul McCartney on this very topic.  I won’t spoil the punchline but you can see it here on TEDx

Failing to nurture talent and harness potential is irresponsible and I think the same accusation might be leveled at many organisations public and private, large and small.  And while we talk about encouraging diversity and talent, these are broad concepts that remain elusive to many.  I know this because people often tell me.

So how to assess potential?  How to make sure we don’t bury talent?

  • Have proper and meaningful discussions with our people.  Do less “appraising” and do more listening.  Host conversations that help the individual navigate their own development path.  If we are going to set objectives then we should make them stretching and developmental.
  • Devise career paths that encourage people to travel laterally as well as vertically in the organisation.  Progression is far too often associated with Promotion and it needn’t be.  Your future CEO could well have first hand experience of Sales & Marketing, Operations, IT and Human Resources, so we need to provide placements and mentors to allow that to happen.
  • Host regular “Development Centres” to assess potential of staff.  These can be quite demanding for the individual and are resource heavy to run but they will help you identify a rich layer of talent and give a much clearer indication of people’s strengths and limitations.

It’s also possible now to use diagnostics and you can find the new High Potential Traits Indicator on our pages.   I think it’s a really useful tool and accompaniment to your initiatives around Talent and Succession Planning.

Potential is all around us.  I’m interested in your thoughts as to how we make sure this most precious of resources isn’t squandered.

With the challenges we have in the world, we are going to need it.

Questions for Leaders:

  • What traits and characteristics does your organisation need going forward?
  • How do you recognise potential?
  • What systems do you have to nurture Talent?


Posted by John Drysdale
15th July 2016
John's Blog


Liverpool based training company, No Guru is ‘leading in learning’ as the ILM city region hub

North West employers now have access to professional development qualifications for management, team leaders and supervisory staff as Cotton Exchange based training company, No Guru becomes the Liverpool City Region hub for ILM accreditation.


University Contract extended for 2 Years

Leeds Beckett University relationship extended

We are delighted to announce our current contract to provide Staff Training and Team Building to Leeds Beckett University has been extended a further 2 years.

During the next academic year we will be running new programmes around:

  • Strategic Thinking
  • Leading Change
  • Leading & Empowering People
  • Working to Strengths
  • Designing and Delivering Presentations

Additionally we will continue to work with Teams to deliver on the University Strategic Framework as well as completing our first ILM Level 5 Coaching & Mentoring programme for internal ‘Coaching Champions’.

We would like to thank People Development and everyone at Leeds Beckett for making it a great place to work.


NEW: Even more Online Courses

We’re very pleased to announce new additions to our Online Suite of Training Courses.  We have just added:

  • Anti Harassment and Bullying
  • Effective Delegation
  • Disciplinary Procedures
  • Negotiation

Our course of the week this week is Safeguarding Children.  (more…)


John's Blog

Image Triage – be careful what you post

How to avoid public ‘shaming’

If you’ve ever read Jon Ronson’s book ‘Shamed’, you will know the devastating effect social media can have on people who have posted something stupid on the internet.

Ronson highlights the case of Justine Sacco (a director of corporate communications) who, before boarding an 11-hour flight from Heathrow to Cape Town, Tweeted to her 170 followers what she thought was a series of lighthearted, acerbic comments about her journey. (more…)

Across the great divide

Let’s be kinder to each other in 2017

There is a striking memorial in a park in Indianapolis.  It marks the spot where in April 1968, Robert Kennedy told a waiting crowd that Martin Luther King had been shot and killed, before speaking from the heart and his own personal experience, that violence is never an answer to our grievances.  His calming words quelled the rioting that other cities endured in the days after Dr King’s death and, arguably, saved some lives that night.


The memorial itself is an arresting work of art.  (more…)

Thinking In A World That Doesn’t Think

Arsene Wenger and that letter

A recent item appeared on LinkedIn that made me curious.  You may have seen it.

It purports to show a resignation letter written by a disillusioned employee of Arsenal Football Club, citing his reason for leaving: (more…)