The Problem with Potential

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


New Projects for Summer/Autumn 2018

It has been a really rewarding couple of weeks here at No Guru with new work and wonderful new clients added to our portfolio.

This week we met with the Senior Team at Irwell Valley Homes who have commissioned a project in support of their new brand. (more…)

No Guru now working with University of Huddersfield

Quarter 1 has started off with brilliant news, a newly commissioned programme of delivery for the University of Huddersfield to deliver ‘Strategic Thinking in Higher Education’ as part of an ambitious programme of development for Senior Managers. This leads to a recognised qualification from the Chartered Management Institute.  Head of Staff Development, Daniel Benton explains (more…)

Coaching for Results: Event with Professional Liverpool

We are delighted to be partnering with Professional Liverpool to deliver a FREE seminar on Monday 5th March (3pm to 5pm).

This explores the role of Coaching (and Mentoring) in helping staff deliver business results.  The session will be run by John Drysdale and will be a chance to find out how you can coach more effectively and perhaps consider a role in Coaching and Mentoring through our ILM Programmes.

To reserve your place click here. (more…)


John's Blog

The Immortal Memory: Robert Burns

Address to The Liverpool Athenaeum  2nd February 2018

I was delighted to be asked by club President Sir David Maddison to deliver The Immortal Memory at The Athenaeum Burns evening which I attended with my wife Fiona. This is a huge honour for any Scot and I hope I did it justice.  Burns provides such a rich tapestry I found it a real challenge to be succint and speak in a way that would connect with the audience – I chose to set Burns against the universal themes we recognise today and in the challenges we face in uncertain times.  I hope you enjoy it.   JD


The Immortal Memory – Robert Burns 1759-1796

The Athenaeum 2nd Feb 2018

President, ladies and gentlemen, fellow proprietors and distinguished guests.  I am honoured to propose the Immortal Memory this evening.

To one Robert Burns who lived between 1759 and 1796.


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

Reworking of an earlier blog of mine, marking the 50th Anniversaries of the deaths of Martin Luther King (4/4/68) and Robert F Kennedy (6/6/68)

Let’s be kinder to each other 

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…)