Why You Can't Rely on Potential

(Public Domain Pictures)

A pastor friend of mine once taught me the meaning of the word "potential."

"Do you see that young man over there? He has a lot of potential."

"Is he gifted?" I asked.

"Who knows? He hasn't done anything yet."

Since then, I've been very careful about speaking to anyone about their potential. I tend to focus on obvious gifts and ask about how those gifts are at work.

When I consider a person's gifts, I like to think about the marketing concept of Life Time Value (LTV) of a customer. Some refer to it as Customer Lifetime Value (CLV).

What is the long-term value of the gift in the life of the holder? As a leader, how should I position this person in order to help the individual grow specific gifts? How will those gifts be used to improve the organization?

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Notice the order of the two questions. If the answer to the first question is weak or vague, the second question becomes irrelevant. Effective leaders must fully assess the assembly of gifts at the table.

We tend to hire for short-run needs. "We'll worry about next year when we get there." The problem with myopic hiring is that we tend to create a cycle of crisis hires. The urgent delays the recruitment of people we need to "get there."

Perhaps we can find a way to hire for the future while also assembling a team with skill sets needed to reach longer-term goals. We must assess our talent inventory to determine gaps that could hinder our growth plan.

As an example, let's assume your organization has correctly decided to launch a podcast. In this example, the organization has been discussing podcasts for several months. No one on staff has the gift or skills to create energy for the work. So the podcast remains on the someday list.

Outsourcing the podcast won't work because of cultural-fit issues. The organization has a goal—but no human assets to achieve it.

Good recruiting and selection practices include the use of pre-employment testing. Batteries of tests are available, and I've used many of them, but many fail to measure applicable gifts and skills.

Most hiring managers have used personality tests such as Myers-Briggs or the DISC profile. Few have used skills testing to assess candidate abilities. The best test I've ever used is the classic homework assignment.

To test for podcast skills, we would mainly need to measure a candidate's storytelling ability. We could ask the candidate to use their cellphone voice recorder to provide a sample of storytelling. (The first rule of podcasting is to tell a good story.) The homework assignment allows the hiring manager to test for the applicant's ability to follow directions, meet deadlines and demonstrate skills with creativity.

I try never to add a team member without assigning homework, and I've also found a side benefit. Homework is the best gatekeeper I know. About half the candidates fail to submit their homework or even to call to let me know of a delay. The hiring process becomes much easier when candidates exit on their own.

But there's another hiring factor few managers seem to consider. God's point of view supersedes everything we can learn by interviews, personality tests or homework.

You may recall the story in 1 Samuel 16 when God commissioned Samuel to anoint the new king of Israel. Proud Papa Jesse paraded his seven older sons before the aging prophet.

Jesse's biggest boys had the skills. No doubt their Myers-Briggs profiles lined up with royalty, and their high Ds on DISC seemed like a kingly match. Yet God rejected each of them, one by one. When Samuel asked if those were all his sons (v. 11), a reluctant Jesse admitted, "There remains yet the youngest, and there he is shepherding the flock" (v. 11b).

Samuel had no time for agricultural excuses. He told Jesse, "Send and bring him, for we will not sit down until he comes here" (v. 11c).

Once David arrived, the choice seemed obvious. Samuel immediately anointed him king.

When making new hires, think long-term. Utilize personality assessments. Do your homework, and have the candidates do theirs. But most of all, wait for that download from the Holy Spirit.

Earlier in Chapter 16, God gave Samuel the key to recognizing true potential: "For the Lord sees not as man sees. For man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart" (v. 7b).

See what God sees in the young person sitting with you. God sends you gifts you need—hidden in the hearts of men.

Listen at Dr. Steve Greene teaches how to plant your potential and watch it sprout.

Dr. Steve Greene is publisher and executive vice president of the media group at Charisma Media and executive producer of the Charisma Podcast Network. His Charisma House book, Love Leads, is available at christianbook.com, amazon.com or your local bookstore. Download his Love Leads podcast at cpnshows.com, and follow his Love Leads blog at charismamag.com/blogs/love-leads.

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