Hidalgo, a movie I thoroughly enjoyed with a good message for us all; don’t let skeptics deter you from your goals and you have more in you than those who only see what they want to see. True Story: I’m in my first year of my career 4600 km from home in a new job that didn’t exist in the rest of the Canadian education mosaic.I had to hire a team and I had limited training for this type of business venture. My training consisted of my two year life experience as the Executive Director of a boys residential sports camp on the Ottawa River in Quebec a few years earlier. I was all of 20 years old and this was my summer job as a university undergraduate at a university in the Maritimes. I had 55 camp counsellors who were high school students to build into a team along with my senior team of camp directors who were also university kids, and the camp cooks and grounds staff. What the hell did I know?
My education journey on the West Coast began with interviewing people for unionized staff positions. Just a few short weeks into my new career I met this ‘old’ man who didn’t look particularly healthy but who had a quick mind, engaging way of communicating with people, and who had lived a life of great adventure in Asia while representing his country Great Britain. There was something about him that my ‘gut’ told me to pay attention to and not to let prejudice or bias invade my thinking. So I threw the dice and gambled on hiring him. Terry turned out to be an amazing human being who the public that frequented our facility loved, I loved, and who I could always trust to deliver for us. And over the years his health and appearance dramatically revived because I believe he had purpose again in his life. He felt needed and was contributing to society again in a meaningful way!
This taught me a couple of valuable lessons very early on in my career that I never forgot and that I wish others could learn fore all too often youth is the almighty grail when hiring people. I learned that retired people have much to offer and the cognitive talents they had in their youth were not lost as they aged. Once a Maximizer always a Maximizer. Once a Strategic always a Strategic. Once an Ideation always an Ideation. Once a Learner always a Learner. Once an Individualization always an Individualization * source StrenghtsFinder. These traits are called talents, ‘god’ given gifts, or strengths that you may be able to teach in some corporate university program but that will Never be at the core who the person is if he or she doesn’t already possess them. I really don’t care what you call them, the important thing to understand is that they are the essence of a person’s being. Strengths are talents that Tom Rath, Donald Clifton, and Marcus Buckingham have researched extensively and written books on the subject in great detail. I used their material for decades when sizing up the people in an organization, on teams, succession management, and in evaluating an organization’s crossroads and its culture. I wish I’d known of Clifton’s initial research when I’d begun my career but I had no such understanding and its surprising to me today how few people know of it, understand it and better yet; embed it in their organizational structure.
My message to anyone that reads this is ‘keep an open mind’ when sizing up individuals, and don’t ever dismiss us old crocks as past their time. Our past is to some degree a good indicator of what we can do in the future and where we can best be utilized. Don’t waste your time trying to make someone something they’re not or worse yet, don’t want to be even if they’re naturally good at it. Hire based on four key criteria: 1. Knowledge-Can I teach this person what I need them to know for the job and role if they don’t have it? Is he or she capable of acquiring this knowledge? ie. creative writing skills when the individual dislikes writing or how about promoting someone to management when they fundamentally don’t enjoy having to deal with people issues. 2. Skills-Can this individual demonstrate he or she has the skill(s) required for the job and role or what will it take to teach them? ie. if I’m looking for another Gretzky who knew where the puck was going and that’s the skill he or she needs then that’s a talent I won’t be able to teach them or I can’t rely on someone to be accountable when it’s not in his or her nature. 3. Talent-Can they demonstrate that they have the talents I’ve identified for both the job and the role based on their past life experiences? Their behavioural examples don’t have to have anything to do with the job and role the individual is applying for ie. an individual can either demonstrate he or she is a Responsibility with many examples that slip easily off their tongue throughout one’s lifetime dating back to childhood or they can’t. 4. Passion-does the individual have the drive and desire to cheerfully carry-out the core skills that the job and role requires? ie. an individual may be very, very good at a certain skill, have all the prerequisite knowledge and is highly capable BUT if he or she doesn’t enjoy doing it then they’ll never be happy and nor will you as his or her immediate supervisor. There will always be something missing for the individual. ie. in athletics I’ve seen this trait many times. A gifted athlete who doesn’t put in the extra time without being asked to because he or she isn’t truly passionate about his or her sport. Case in point, my youngest daughter who had all the attributes to play at the provincial and according to her coach-the former Head Coach of Canada’s 2000 Sydney Summer Olympic Games team-“She has all the gifts if she wants it enough to play for Team Canada.” She was naturally very competitive, had the innate physical attributes, could get the knowledge and foundational skills through the years with ‘good’ coaching but lacked the other key ingredient, Passion. She’ll always be a natural athlete but athletics is not her passion, acting is. I could use the same example for my eldest daughter but her field was the arts. Singing a solo at a school concert a sister of one of the teacher’s happened to be one of Canada’s primier sopranos and was visiting her family out West while taking a short break from a New York City Broadway production. You can imagine getting a phone call while at work and she introduced herself, and said, “I just saw your daughter sing and she has not just a very good voice but a very unique voice.” “She needs to have voice lessons when she’s a bit older but not now as they could damage her voice.” “Brian, she’s got Real Talent!” I’ll NEVER forget that phone call and those words, I was ‘god smacked’! I knew she loved singing and still does but she didn’t have the Passion to do whatever it took to turn her gift into a potential career.
The message is clear- I learned I ultimately needed Terry to be an Empathy, an Adaptability, a Consistency, a Restorative, and a Relator in his position. My good fortunate was that Terry embodied all these Strengths and just as importantly had the passion for what the job would demand of him. Years later the School Board called me to request that I let Terry know he could no longer work for the Board because he was well past retirement age. I was no longer his boss and in a very different job and role, and I told them that I would NOT make that call. I asked if he was still capable in his job. “Yes,” came back the reply. I told them the public loved the man and many program enrolees signed up to interact with Terry as much as they did for their educational courses. Guess what? The Board released him and he died within the year. I’m convinced it was from a broken heart. His wife had died earlier and this four hour four day a week job gave him purpose and kept him young at heart. God bless you Terry, you made a real difference in the lives of others at a time in your life when our society tends to judge senior citizens harshly!