Lifting Up Human Talent

It began as a routine interview with a local business leader.  But what resulted was a collection of transformative ideas for lifting up human talent.  The interviewer, George Allen, had known of Sally Dixon’s success as a business leader, but he was unprepared for the depth of her success.  The following is a partial transcript of the interview.

GA:        Your business has certainly been a success.  I guess you’re proud of your sales performance and profitability.  To what do you attribute that success?

SD:         First off, George, sales and profitability aren’t the success metrics I use.  I think of the success of this business as the way we have made the most of the talent of our employees.  In the 32 years we’ve been in the business, we can point to 166 corporate leaders who got their start here.  Some created their own businesses, while others have achieved senior level positions in major companies.

GA:        WOW!!  I was unaware of that.  To what do you attribute that success?

SD:         We try to hire the right people.  And I don’t mean hiring from the right schools.  In fact, many of those we hired did not have an educational credential beyond high school.  By the way, that’s a talent pool of 39 million Americans.  We paid for them to get the credentials they would need so they could match the talent they already had with a credential to support their confidence and self-esteem.

GA:        But what specifically were you looking for when you hired people?

SD:         I’ve given our hiring managers a set of criteria.  The attributes we are looking for include:

– Humility                                                        – Personal Reflection
– Self Doubt                                                    – Habits of Thinking
– Curiosity                                                       – Challenging Conventional Thinking
– Open Mind                                                   – Self Learning
– Questioning Abilities                                    – Genuine Compassion

GA:        I don’t’ think I’ve ever seen a list like that before.  It must be tough to assess those attributes.

SD:         Not really.  We don’t interview.  We have a conversation with no preset questions.  We start by asking:  “Who are you?” and let it go from there.  Over the span of an hour conversation, we can assess every one of those attributes.  It’s surprising what you can learn from others when you just talk.

GA:        OK.  Now what happens once you hire them?

SD:         There are eight things that we try to teach our employees to develop their talent:

  • Question everything
  • Quit searching for the right answer
  • Be wary of premature consensus
  • Ask “Why not?” more than “Why?”
  • Share your knowledge with others
  • Devote half of your day in sorting through your confusion alone
  • Become your own judge of the best use of your talent
  • Don’t ever say “You are wrong” to anyone

GA:        Again, that’s a very unique list.  Is there anything else you do to lift the talents of your people?

SD:         There is one more thing.  I expect every employee to develop a creative passion.  For some, it may be writing, singing, or dancing.  It could be painting, sculpting, glass making, pottery.  I want them to develop creative works which challenge not only their creative thinking skills, but also their sense of what is a worthy result of their talent.  If you can’t evaluate your own talent and continuously raise it, then you can’t mentor others to best develop their talents.

While the interview went on for another hour, George Allen left the interview with the thought of how he was best using his own talent.

All of us need to ask ourselves:  “Are we making the best use of our talents?”  How do we measure up to Sally’s attributes?  And have we developed the eight abilities to best showcase our talent?  Finally, how are we challenging our creative development?

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“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, “I used everything you gave me.” – Erma Bombeck

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