The sudden rise to stardom of New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin has taken the sports world by storm over the last two weeks. Seemingly from out of nowhere, Lin has gone from a no-name bench-warmer to the darling of New York and the NBA, leading the Knicks on a seven game win streak. During his last seven games, Lin has averaged 24.4 points, 9.1 assists and 4.0 rebounds, all the while reviving a moribund team, moving them up two places in their conference standings.
The talking-heads of the sports world have been proclaiming that Lin was a complete unknown who came out of nowhere to achieve this success, but the reality is, Lin was a known commodity who just needed a chance. Coming out of high school in Palo Alto, CA, he was offered the chance to walk on at Stanford, Cal, and UCLA, but chose instead to attend Harvard where he was a standout player. Although he went un-drafted by the NBA, he was signed as a free agent by multiple teams and played in the NBA Developmental league before finally getting his chance to start with the Knicks. It simply took him being in the right place at the right time for him to showcase his skills.
Lin’s story serves as an excellent leadership reminder when it comes to talent management. How many potential Jeremy Lin’s do you have sitting on your bench?
People Just Need a Chance
Our organizations are filled with people who have a wealth of talent that is left untapped. How do you explain the worker who toils in anonymity all day long only to go home at the end of the day and excel in a given hobby (sports, music, art, etc.)? Why do we not tap into some of those skills and abilities in the workplace?
A little over a year ago my organization started experimenting with in-house, high-end, multimedia productions. It was amazing to see the latent talent that existed in our company. People came out of the woodwork from various departments to lend their expertise, such as camera operators, video editors, script writers, and web designers. All these folks needed was an opportunity to showcase skills that weren’t being fully utilized in their current roles.
Don’t Stereotype People
There’s no doubt that Jeremy Lin has been stereotyped. Lin is frequently described as “deceptively quick” or “stronger than he looks,” as if an Asian-American isn’t supposed to be quick or strong. U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who played basketball at Harvard, knows Lin, and has worked out on the court with him said “This is classic low expectations and, frankly, stereotyping. He was under-appreciated and under-recognized. The fact that he’s Asian American, those two things are absolutely linked.”
In our organizations we frequently stereotype people based on personality assessments, job roles, or competency models. There is nothing wrong with these tools, but if they’re utilized to pigeon-hole people we run the risk of limiting people’s potential. My organization is a big user of the DISC assessment, which profiles people based on behavioral preferences. I’m an “SC” on the DISC, meaning I tend to be more of an introvert, prefer steady and structured environments, follow-through on tasks, don’t like sudden change, and pay attention to the details and quality of my work. For years I was thought to be a “behind the scenes” person until I was given an opportunity to MC an all-company awards ceremony. Afterward people couldn’t believe how well I did in that role and were asking me when I was going on the public speaking circuit! Little did they know that I had a tremendous amount of experience of public speaking and teaching both large and small groups in my church.
Take a Risk
It’s easy to get trapped in sticking with the tried and true. Leaders often have their “go-to” guys that have proven themselves trusted and reliable to get the job done. We stick with them because it’s less risky than giving a new person the shot at the choice assignment. A key part of being a successful leader is developing the talent around you. That requires taking a risk and giving people the opportunity to succeed.
A member of my staff was recently given an opportunity to lead a client-project review during an all-company meeting. She worked with the project team to develop a theme for the presentation, based on the movie The Matrix, and she beautifully orchestrated an outstanding presentation. Her colleagues were amazed at her professionalism, presence, and poise, and since that time she’s been in high demand for other internal projects that require those same skills. Was it risky to put her in that position? Yes. Did it payoff? Big time!
A Star is Born
How many Jeremy Lin’s do you have sitting on your bench, just waiting for an opportunity to shine? Leader’s aren’t just responsible for bringing in new talent, they also need to look for ways to uncover and unleash the talent that’s already present in the organization.
“Everyone who thinks this an overnight success fundamentally gets this wrong,” Duncan said in an interview with USA TODAY. “Jeremy has been very good for a long time and just never quite had the opportunity.”
Don’t stereotype. Take a risk. Give someone a chance. Who knows, you just might have a superstar hiding in your midst.