One of the most helpful lessons I’ve learned, applied and taught clients concerning developing others is this: I can help make you more of what you are, but I can’t make you something you’re not. There are key and critical success factors you cannot change about others; nor can you teach them to others. If you have people on your team lacking these traits the time, training, and motivational efforts you invest in them will bring little or no return. Thus, it’s essential that you hire people who bring these assets to the table. This article will outline six such traits to look for when hiring someone into your organization. They are also a useful template to assess the growth potential of those already cashing your paychecks.
First, the good news: There are two key things you can teach others: skills and knowledge. In fact, the definition of teach is: to impart a skill or knowledge. You can teach technical skills, closing skills, knowledge of a product or system and the like.
Now, the not-so-good-news: The following six traits are factors you cannot change about someone, put inside someone, or even effectively teach to someone. To maximize performance these traits must be hired in and then developed with consistent coaching, and within a strong culture.
The hard truth is that, regardless how hard you try, you can’t teach talent; you must hire it in and develop it. In fact, you can’t make yourself talented either, which is why anyone wanting to excel must purse the talents they have, not the talents they want. Without question, everyone has a talent for something; what’s essential is that an employee has a talent for what you’re paying him or her to do.
While it’s also true that talent is never a guarantee of performance, it does provide a great head start towards excellence. In fact, excellence is impossible without talent. This is why training an untalented person longer, harder, and faster won’t make them great in a position where they have no natural ability or aptitude; the best you can hope is to make them less bad. Not very inspiring, to say the least.
You can’t teach what’s innate, nor can you “make” anyone driven. Drive is an inside job. In fact, drive is like talent, in that you cannot put inside of someone what’s not there, you can only draw out what exists. You may certainly be able to temporarily change someone’s drive level with a deadline, incentive or threat; but without genuine internal drive, as soon as the external stimuli disappears so does the drive.
Most would admit it’s hard enough to change your own “settled way of thinking” and thus, the chances of changing someone else’s prevailing outlook on life are remote. Of course, you can temporarily change someone else’s mood based on how you treat them, but their natural attitude—good or bad—will eventually wiggle its way back out.
At the end of the day, each of us is responsible for choosing our own attitude. While we can’t choose what happens to us, we do have the power to choose how we respond; and negative, “can’t do” people have a long history of making the wrong choices in this regard. Can someone change? Yes! Can you change them? No way!
Chances are good that we’ve all tried to influence someone’s character with a good example, words of wisdom or a diatribe on ethics. But despite heroic efforts, we mortal beings remain incapable of changing the individual nature of another human being. Again, the question is, can they change? Yes! Can you change them? The answer remains, absolutely not! Much like attitude, character results from the choices people make and the values they embrace; you can’t make those choices for them.
When you peel character back to the core, it becomes clear that many character flaws are rooted in the desire for instant gratification; shortcuts that take one away from pain and into pleasure without consideration of the consequences. Highly talented people often fall into the trap of making poor decisions, reinforcing the principle that character protects talent.
Some folks have strong internal drive and start the day with a flash, but run out of gas by mid-afternoon, or become overwhelmed when required to demonstrate the mental vitality to juggle multiple tasks simultaneously. You, nor I, can teach anyone the strength and vitality required for sustained physical and mental activity. While drive, like energy, can be affected by external forces, it isn’t sustainable through such means.
Neither drive nor energy compensates for a lack of passion. Many people have high drive and energy levels, but lack excitement or enthusiasm for what they do. As a result, they often feel frustrated and misemployed. Passion, like drive, can lie dormant in someone and may be aroused by a compelling vision, need, or cause. You can stir it up, but can’t force it down.
A leader’s obligation is to create the conditions to arouse passion in others through meaningful work and with a compelling purpose. However, pep talks and positive reinforcement doesn’t substitute for the internal passion someone must have to sustainably excel, through the many ups and downs, in a particular position. When all is said and done, you cannot make anyone passionate about what they’re doing.
The most effective way to assess whether or not a potential employee has these six traits is during the interview. Rigorous, in-depth interviews, anchored in highly effective questions, will help uncover the existence—or lack—of these traits within someone. After all, when you dig into a job candidate’s life these six factors will either show up or not; success leaves clues and so does failure. And while you can’t expect to find perfect people—anyone can get off track from time to time—the “off track” tendencies must, by far, be the exception rather than the rule.
The same reasoning applies when you’re evaluating those currently on your team for future performance potential. Knowing that you’ll have a limited ability to impact any current team members without these six traits, you should be able to more accurately assess their ability to contribute to your organization in the future.
Bottom line: Your life and business gets easier when you really, really, REALLY get the fact that some people won’t change no matter what you do.