You Can’t Make People What They’re Not!

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.


  1. Talent. Defined as: A special or natural ability or aptitude.


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.


  1. Drive. Defined as: An innate, biologically determined urge to attain a goal or satisfy a need.


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.


  1. Attitude: Defined as: A settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something reflected in one’s behavior.


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!


  1. Character: Defined as: The aggregate of moral and ethical traits that form the individual nature of a person.


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.

  1. Energy: Defined as: The strength and vitality required for sustained physical or mental activity.


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.


  1. Passion. Defined as:  A strong feeling of excitement or enthusiasm for something, or about doing something.


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.

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Comment by JIm Fisher on June 17, 2014 at 2:53pm

The reason turn over is so high in automobile sales, is because of the lack of verifying the things that cannot be trained.  Every applicant is motivated, sincere, high energy, focused, passionate, talented and honest.  It is in their resume.   If you ask them questions in an interview, they will answer them positively.  The only thing you can verify before they get hired is whether they are a criminal, have a bad driving record or are a drug user.  You may get a better read by using a personality or adaptability test after you decide to hire them.

However, until they see how really hard and detailed the auto business is, you never know.  If you do not train them constantly, the customer will retrain them.

Dave you are correct.  I normally say it this way "You can not make a race horse out of a donkey, no matter how good you are or how hard you try"

Comment by Dave Anderson on June 16, 2014 at 5:02pm


I believe your wife made a better, more concise point in her one sentence than I did in the entire article! Belated Happy Father's Day to you as well my friend.

Comment by Dave Anderson on June 16, 2014 at 5:01pm

I appreciate the kind words Brian. I sincerely hope all is well with you.

Comment by Dave Anderson on June 16, 2014 at 5:00pm

Thanks David!

Comment by David Blassingame on June 16, 2014 at 11:06am

Great blog.  Absolutely true.

Comment by Brian Bennington on June 15, 2014 at 7:12pm

Good afternoon Mr. Anderson,  Hope you and your wife are well.  Noticing no one has commented on your worldly and well-expressed, yet just a tad depressing post, I wanted to congratulate you on it.  The way you write about the things you can't change in people, it almost seems like you feel a personal failure because you can't.  But, that's understandable considering your sincere and complete dedication to improving the work performance of others, or for that matter, the actual human condition.  I copped out long ago feeling bad about such things, as I was taught at a very young age that "Man among the angels is ludicrous, but with the animals he can walk proud." But, that's just me.  You, on the other hand, operate to such high personal standards I don't think you'd ever accept that.   

Comment by Marsh Buice on June 15, 2014 at 7:56am
Dave I couldn't help but chuckle when I read this article bc I've been guilty of trying to "save " many of my salespeople. I was trying to change them to be someone they truly didn't want to be,-I burned a lot of energy to help them become more driven and the hours I spent fueling their system sputtered and stalled in no time. I would go home exhausted and discouraged bc I wasn't getting through to them. One night my wife told me, "You can't want it more than they do." It was at that time that I focused on what was left in and set the expectations. My job is to create the environment where THEY can be successful- set the bar and them work to jump over it. Today I'm more selective in who we hire- it saves everyone time and energy.
Thanks for the guidance. Happy Fathers Day, Dave.

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