How to handle the extraordinary aspirations of an exceptional employee

Esha is an exceptionally talented young man in Ida’s team. Ida’s company encourages employees to apply for roles that open up within the company. Esha has applied for a role that would place him in the peer-group of Ida’s supervisor’s supervisor.


What is Ida to do?

She needs to sit down across the table from Esha and have a listening conversation. After which she must lay out a set of guidelines for career progression.

What Ida needs to understand

What is the job of a leader? Fundamentally, leader’s job is to create leaders who surpass herself. The regular job of finding and nurturing talent may be assisted by a stroke of luck when one hits upon rare talent that qualifies for the C-suite.

Ida should first recognize the advantages the situation to herself.  Let’s suppose for a moment that Esha makes the cut and lands a C-suite role. There are three potential benefits to Ida herself from this.

First, by demonstrating an eye for outstanding talent, she has set herself apart from her peers. Hiring people carefully is one skill. Developing people and preparing them for bigger roles is another. Handling the occasion gracefully upon hitting the jackpot is yet another and there are few who are adept at it.

Second, Ida now has an ally in high places. This social asset is potentially high-value. She can call in a favor if need be through the inevitable ups and downs of life .

Third, Ida has earned her annual bonus right away. Most organizations are starved for capable leaders. Under the circumstances, one can hardly do better than deliver capable leaders to the organization.

What Esha needs to understand

Talent only goes so far in career growth. So what else does it take?

In agriculture, breeders breed cops for higher-yielding varieties. They use a simple equation:

Y = G + E + (G x E)


  • Y is crop yield
  • G represents genetic factors driving yield
  • E represents environmental factors impacting yield
  • The last term captures interaction between genetics and the environment

I have a similar equation for performance. Which is:

P = T + E + (T x E)


  • P is performance
  • T is talent, inherent to an individual
  • E is experience, the exposure that he has had
  • The last term captures the interplay between talent and experience so that talent shapes an experience and experience shapes the talent.

Esha needs to understand that decision-making roles require experience handling a diversity of situations. A general can read books on military strategy and the art of war. Only when she has seen a soldier cut in half by machine-gun fire can she lead effectively in battle without losing her head. The experience commanding troops and taking fire is irreplaceable.

No amount talent can compensate for experience.

The conversation

In this framework, the two need to set aside time for a conversation upon the critical situations the role is called upon to handle. Esha’s preparedness for the role needs to be assessed in terms of the experiences he has had that give him a leg up. The conversation needs to part of a broader conversation between Ida and Esha about the experiential learning Ida can facilitate for Esha in line with his career goals.

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